Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Year in Review

The end of the year at the library means evaluations, and as part of that process, I'm asked to fill out a self review form. Even though I kind of dread it and put it off to the last minute, I appreciate the prompt to reflect on the past year, my accomplishments and any areas that I think I could improve in during the new year. The year provided me with several opportunities to branch out in my skills as a librarian, and I'm happy to say that I've come to realize the importance of actually taking those opportunities instead of letting them pass me by like I may have done in the past. I've come to adopt two philosophies in my work in order to be successful: "Always try to stay at least ten steps ahead of everyone else" and "In whatever you do, give at least 125%."

In January, I was a new MLS graduate working half time as a reference assistant and half time as a serials clerk. I spent nearly four hours a day in a closet-like office checking in and processing new magazines and the rest of the day on the desk, answering reference questions, keeping track of statistics, teaching computer classes and working on displays. Just as I began my search for professional positions elsewhere, my supervisor informed me that the Technical Services department would be taking over my serials responsibilities. She was thrilled that I'd be able to stay and concentrate on other things. Since I had finished my MLS, adminsitration agreed to give me the professional title, Reference Librarian, and I think that was what gave me the confidence and motivation to start taking the initiative.

When one of my colleagues accepted a job as the marketing director in March, she handed over the responsibility of her brainchild, the library's Book Club in a Bag service, to me. With in-kind donations from the Friends of the Lawrence Public Library, we collect ten copies of popular book club titles and patrons can check them out for 8 weeks at a time. Many have commented on how great this service is, and have even donated books to expand our collection. Since taking over the service, I've added about 10 titles to the collection, put together the "Book Club Hub" to promote it, and have managed over 80 check outs. My colleague's department change also meant someone needed to take over managing some of the promotional materials, like read-a-like book marks, fiction 101 trifolds and other handouts.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, one of my favorite responsibilities is making displays. Some of of my favorite displays were Wild Wild Westerns, True Crime, Books Under Fire for Banned Books Week, Native American Heritage, A Few of Our Favorite Things, and my most recent Kids' Books Adults Love. With the help of the IT department and the marketing director, I also put together the new eReader Kiosk with trifold handouts describing different eReaders and information on the upcoming lendable eBook service from the State Library of Kansas. The library received a grant to purchase four iPads, four Sony Readers, four Kindles and 4 Nooks, one of each of which we now display on the kiosk so patrons can get hands on experience with them before purchasing one. The kiosk has really instigated a lot of questions about eReaders and eBooks, and I love getting the chance to explain technology to patrons. Along the same lines, I've gotten to teach several computer classes throughout the year like an Intro to the Internet, Getting Started with Facebook, and our famous Technology Petting Zoos.

Through late summer and into the fall, I helped plan our "Transformations" themed staff in-service day with the staff development committee. In years past, the day would start with a "state of the library" address from the director, but our director resigned just before the in-service. I suggested in lieu of that address, we break the staff up into small groups for a guided discussion and then bring them back together to share their responses. The rest of the day was filled with presentations and training sessions; lunch catered by a local restaurant, Wheatfields; and the highlight, the keynote speaker, the famous librarian, Nancy Pearl. We ended with a fun library themed scavenger hunt, sending staff around the building to take pictures with certain things and to retreive different objects. Even though I felt much of the in-service came together at the last minute, we had a postive over all response.

Having had so much fun planning staff day, I volunteered to help plan the holiday breakfast and the outcome of that event felt like the perfect ending to a great year. If I didn't get a job in a library, I think the next best option would have been event planning. However, I really feel fortunate that I am working in a library, 'cause I couldn't imagine working anywhere else. I'm really looking forward to what the new year will bring, especially with the upcoming expansion and renovation project tentatively set to begin in the summer.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mortal Kombat!

When I was a teenager, I was pretty much obsessed with Mortal Kombat. It started with the arcade. My siblings and I bowled every Saturday on a league, and every chance I got, I ran to the arcade to anxiously await my turn on the MKII machine, quarters in hand. I couldn't describe my excitement each time I wandered into the game room to find that a new edition had been released. Then I learned that I could play it at home, and I begged my parents for the Super Nintendo and Game Boy versions for my birthdays or the holidays or saved up the money myself. I never considered myself a violent kid, but my sometimes unhealthy obsession with this graphic, blood and guts filled game might say otherwise.

I spent the better part of my day off yesterday reviving that obsession. My fiance "surprised me" with the newest edition of the game for PlayStation 3 for Christmas (he actually bought it a couple of months ago, making no effort to hide it from me and telling me he intended to sell it for profit). And I love it. One of the most horrifyingly graphic, and probably my favorite, aspects of the game is the "x-ray moves" in which the animation slows down and you see bones break in x-rays of where certain punches, kicks or other impacts land. Fatalities are much more realistic, too, showing every gut, every exposed muscle, every drop of blood in brutal finishing moves that often times leave me cringing.

Another thing I like about the game is the story mode. A combination of a movie and the original verses mode, you pretty much enter the Mortal Kombat background story as different characters. I, of course, saw the Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation film adaptations, but the interactive aspect makes the story so much better. I even tried my hand at an online round, in which you choose your kombatant and fight an unknown user. I haven't played any form of the game for such a long time, and I was sure I was going to get creamed, but I actually managed to win and even perform a fatality. There was sort of a lag, but I think that was more from my internet connection than it was any fault with the game.

If I didn't have tons of books that I want to read, an apartment to keep clean, meals to cook and consume, a fiance to spend time with and a full time job, I would probably spend hour after hour playing this game. However, like I am at work at this moment, I'll just have to fantasize about my next flawless victory, fatality or babality whenever I don't have the controller in my hand.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poetry Social: "Traditions"

I'm really fortunate to work in a place that allows me to utilize my talents and passions in my job--one of those passions being poetry. About four months ago, I started hosting a monthly poetry event at the library. A college town, Lawrence is kind of known for its artistic community, and I figured there would be a large audience for something poetry related. I approached my colleague, the adult programming librarian, about developing the event, knowing she was looking to increase the number of adult programs. I had originally envisioned an open mic reading each month, and maybe inviting a professional or published poet in every know and then. My colleague suggested we give it a unique name--the Poetry Social--and come up with a theme for each reading to inspire the participants. Our first Poetry Social was held in September with the theme, "Migrations."

Each month, while I'm sitting in the gallery waiting for people to show up, I admit I get a little disheartened as the clock ticks closer and closer to the start time while only a few people walk in. However, by the end of the event, I'm always impressed with the works and conversations shared. There's a core group of people that have come to each one, and I can tell that they appreciate an outlet for their creativity. Some of them drive twenty or more minutes to participate, and I always make sure to express my gratitude for their presence. Tonight's Poetry Social on the theme "Traditions" was no different. A last minute scheduling of an author visit bumped the event from its original location in the gallery, and I thought that might deter some attendees, but my faithful regulars still showed ready to share.

I started tonight's social by showing the participants some of the poetry resources we have at the library, having pulled some collections and the current Poet's Market before the event began. Then, to spark some creativity, I played a winter meditation video from Youtube and instructed the participants to use the music and visuals as a writing prompt. When that ended, I invited the participants to share, and even though there were only five, we were there for about 45 minutes enjoying each other's poetry and thoughts. I appreciate how fitting the name we came up with for the event, Poetry Social, has come to be. Each poem sparked conversation, and we shared in a discussion on when each of us began writing. When we ran out of work to share, I thanked everyone for coming and closed the evening with my own product of the writing prompt:

Winter Meditation

All around me
naked trees stretch their limbs
in directions akimbo,
bearing testimony to
winter's harsh touch.

Icy cold fingers
dance and trip
down the notches in my spine
as my breath
heavy and moist
escapes my lips
like fog lifting into
the blue and endless expanse
of a frost bitten sky
above me.

A leaf in the snow,
my mind frozen
as I lose myself in
the season's
white noise.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm just a simple librarian in a high tech digital world

I've gotten to the point where I wince every time a patron walks up to the desk and asks about free eBooks or audiobooks. Even before the State Library of Kansas's contract ended with OverDrive, explaining how to get the digital content onto a device could get complicated depending on the device in question. Now with the switching of platforms, the length of my reference transactions have doubled with explanations about the new services and how some content isn't available yet, or even compatible with some devices--the most notorious being the Amazon's Kindle products. It's kind of disheartening to see people's eyes light up at the prospect of free eBooks and then have to explain that they're not available yet, and that we're not even sure when or if they will be compatible with Kindles.

In a matter of two hours this morning, I must have had four patrons asking about digital content. One brought in her Kindle Fire hoping to learn how to download audiobooks from the State Library's new provider, OneClickdigital, directly to it. After trying to figure out her log in information and ultimately having to reset her password, we managed to log in to her OneClickdigital account, only to determine that it wasn't going to be possible for her to download files directly. She'll actually have to buy the USB cord not included with the original purchase, download the eBooks to her computer, figure out if they're the incompatible WMA files or compatible MP3 files, and then transfer them to the Kindle. For some of our older patrons who are just now bridging the digital divide, that isn't as easy as the State Library's new site title, "Kansas EZ Library" implies.

But I guess that's what I'm at the library for, right? I'm just glad that I have the knowledge and experience to be able to help patrons figure it out, and though sometimes I feel like it's the blind leading the blind, they usually end up leaving with most of their questions answered. And I always let them know if they discover they have more, they're always welcome to come back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mmmm! Tater tot casserole!

"Everything changes, but as it changes there is one immutable thing and that is the larger rhythm. The rhythm of all that is." -Jewel, Chasing Down the Dawn

I'm sitting at the reference desk with a belly full of tater tot casserole, deviled eggs and freshly brewed Dunkin' Doughnuts coffee, having just come from the Staff Holiday Breakfast. This year, in the absence of the person who has probably done it for the past 10 years or so, I got to help plan and organize the event with two of my colleagues from Technical Services. This last quarter has kind of had a focus on change: the library is getting ready for an upcoming renovation and expansion project, the theme of our in-service day was "Transformations" and finally, Nancy, Cecilia and I decided to change things up quite a bit with holiday breakfast. As with any major change in an organization, we feared there might be a negative response, but sitting here reflecting on the event and recalling some comments, I can say it was no where near as bad as we had thought it might be.

Traditionally, the main activity for the morning, besides the potluck breakfast, has been a White Elephant Gift Exchange. That was our biggest change. Instead of sending people away with tacky, often times useless things that end up getting re-gifted the next year, Nancy, Cecilia and I decided we wanted to support our adopted family, as well as our local businesses, by having a donation and drawing. For each non-perishable food item the staff members brought for the family, they got up to five chances in a drawing for gift certificates to La Prima Tazza, The Raven Bookstore, 715, African Adorned, and Local Burger. We also wanted to make sure everyone walked away with something, so we made certificates for the spring Friends of the Library book sale.

Overall, I think it went pretty well (as I was writing this, a coworker exclaimed over how much more lively the event seemed this year!). Nancy had the great idea of hanging huge ornamental snowflakes from the ceiling, we got blue and silver tablecloths, and a great white floral arrangement for a centerpiece. I really wanted the breakfast to be a reflection on the past 12 months and a celebration of the end of the year. To help with this, I put together a PowerPoint slideshow of pictures that had been taken throughout the year with snowflakes that would periodically fall down the screen and projected it for a visual. Conversations were great, everyone was very appreciative for the gift certificates, and the food was delicious! It's events like these that make me appreciate all the more my job and the people I work with.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

You're never too old for Seuss!

Much too excited about my next display project, I wasn't able to sleep in any longer this morning--so I decided to blog about it! Last week, a colleague from Youth Services emailed my supervisor with a great idea to put up a display in the adult area featuring children's books that adults love, and I volunteered to put it up in January. And how appreciative I am of her suggestion, because I was having a little bit of trouble thinking outside of the "January is National [insert random noun] Month!" box for next month's display. As a lay in bed, futilely trying to fall back to sleep, I started thinking about a clever title and imagining the sign and props. Now, I won't go in to great detail, but I'm thinking big--like, The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Where the Wild Things Are big! Reflecting back on my undergrad years again and a bulletin board display one of my classmates made for a children's literature course, I may borrow her idea and even pull out some papier-mâché if I find the time and resources to do so! As for the books that will be featured on the display, I'm hoping my YS colleague, who volunteered to put together the list, will include some of my favorites:

This first title I love and adore so much, I decided to have the cover illustration tattooed on my arm! I was in college when I first read Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, and I can't think of a better time to have read it. The story is about a disenchanted pilot who has an enlightening encounter with a little prince after his plane crashes, leaving him stranded in the Sahara. On a journey to experience the universe, the little prince comes to Earth from a tiny, far away planet. On the verge of becoming a full-fledged adult, I learned from this book the value of holding on to a childlike imagination and appreciation of the world. I related well to the journeys of both the pilot and the the prince, and appreciated the several lessons like one the prince learns from a fox while traveling the universe: "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye." Every time someone notices the tattoo on my forearm, I always take the opportunity to tell them about this great read!

I've thought about getting a tattoo inspired by this next title too. This book brought to my attention that there can be two types of people in the world: those who give and those who take. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, which chronicles the relationship between a boy and a tree, has been considered by some to be controversial because of its depiction of a compulsive giver and a predatory taker. As the boy grows, the tree is constantly providing for him branches to swing on, shade to sit in and fruit from its branches. Though the story has caused me to reflect on how much I have given or taken in some of my relationships, I do think that may be taking it a little too far. The unconditional, self-sacrificing love the tree has for the boy, which continues into his adulthood and elderly years, has always inspired me to be better in my own interactions with the people around me, whether I'm giving (gifting) or taking (receiving), and I don't think that's a bad lesson to learn.

This last title is often given as a graduation present, and I've even witnessed it being read at a wedding. "Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed. (98 3/4% guaranteed.)" Filled with encouragement and sound advice, Dr. Seuss's Oh the Places You'll Go! is perfect for anyone who's about to take their next big step in life's journey. The narrator relates the decisions and paths of an unnamed protagonist, generally understood to represent the reader, as he travels through colorful, geometrical landscapes. All throughout the book, the narrator offers such adages as “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.” and “Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you." I received the book myself after graduating from high school, and I've treasured it since.

There are many other children's titles that I enjoy, and I'm sure many feel the same way, so I'm pretty sure this display's going to be popular. Now that I've got it all planned out, part of me can't wait for the next three weeks to be over so I can start working on it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The perfect place to be

On my way back to work after lunch this afternoon, I decided to scroll through my iPod's playlist for my new favorite song, Kimya Dawson's The Library featuring Aesop Rock from her newest album, Thunder Thighs, and play it loudly to encourage a favorable mood for returning to my workplace. Nothing like a little affirmation of one's calling in life as when your favorite artist advocates the institution for which you work through his or her artistry! I've always admired Kimya for her passion for music and her uninhibited desire and willingness to share whatever's on her mind through melody. This song has made me appreciate and adore her all the more!

The lyrics present several things you can do or get at the library and many reasons why the library's "the perfect place to be." They even give props to the people at the library who are there to help you--the librarians! I especially love the reference transaction in which a patron is looking for books by Judy Blume and the helpful librarians respond, not only with the location of the books in question, but with other great suggestions too! Every time I listen to it, I start to imagine what the music video would look like: Kimya, surrounded by children and puzzles and stacks of books, and a quirky librarian with the horn rimmed glasses, cardigan and bun letting loose and dancing on the reference desk!

As I was walking up the steps to the front entrance of my library, with the song still replaying in my mind, I felt as if it was continuing in real time. A mother and her two children were ahead of me, and the little boy was excitedly explaining, "...and you can find a movie to watch while we go play on the computers!"

Some guys are only about that thing, that thing, that thing!

It's an all too familiar story. Guy goes to house party 'cause he heard a real hottie's gonna be there. Guy gets smashed. Guy approaches said hottie, drunkenly professes his love to her and throws himself on her. Said hottie freaks and flees.

In the last post, I said that I would probably find some reason to dislike Vinicius, the nephew of the spoiled Roman nobleman, Petronius, in Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis. It didn't take long. After learning of Petronius's scheme to have Ligia sequestrated by Nero, the Roman Emperor, Vinicius planned to comfort and woo her at a celebratory feast that Nero held at his palace. And some party it turned out to be. A drunken orgy, as to which it was actually referred. Needless to say, Vinicius drank a little bit too much wine and came on quite strongly, which understandably upset Ligia, who was just beginning to discover some feelings for the poor drunken lad.

Now I'm really curious as to how this will turn out. Hopefully, Ligia will have enough sense to stay away from Vinicius. However, it will probably be the case that Vinicius will do something heroic and Ligia will swoon and fall in love again. Then again, maybe her neo-Christian perspective and values will keep her on the straight and narrow. Either way, it will be interesting and enlightening to see how Sienkiewicz treats the female character. Will his views on the sexes be different than those held during the reign of the Roman Empire? Or will he satisfy the typical male chauvinistic archetype?

I have to admit, when I first picked up the book and flipped through its pages, I thought Quo Vadis was going to bore me to tears. And the first few pages didn't convince me otherwise. However, I'm happy to say that it's actually turned out to be a very engaging read, and despite my unfavorable feelings for some of the main characters, I somewhat enjoying the storyline. So maybe I can understand how it came to be considered one of history's greatest best sellers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The curse (or blessing) of miscommunication

This morning was probably one of the most hectic I've experienced while working in a library. Usually we have three or four reference librarians and assistants to cover the desk, but today two of them called in and one had gone to see President Obama in Osawatamie. That left me, my supervisor and our programming librarian to cover the desk. All would have been fine, if it weren't for the computer class and webinar scheduled for the morning and early afternoon as well! And on top of that, it seemed as if every patron that called or walked up to the reference desk needed in depth research or at least five books or movies that they wanted to track down. Needless to say, I'm kind of pooped.

Our class was on OneClickdigital, the new downloadable audiobook platform available from the State Library of Kansas. There were only four people registered, so I was kind of hoping that half of them wouldn't show up (which is usually the case) so I could cancel the class and go back to helping out at the desk. Thanks to our relatively new email newsletter, Connections, and a listing in the Lawrence Journal World, though, eight unregistered patrons showed up for the class, unaware that they needed to reserve a seat beforehand. And so, not wanting to turn willing and eager learners away, I continued with the lesson as planned--and in retrospect, I'm glad that I did. In the process of trying to explain this new service, I learned a few things myself, and it's always good to see the computer lab near capacity for our classes. Also, the public speaking practice was an benefit too! I've always been fortunate to have patrons who are patient with my tendency to speak too fast, my inability to stay somewhat on track and other public speaking quirks and no-no's of mine.

After the class, I had another hour on the desk and then just 30 minutes to prepare for the Foundation Center webinar, Grant Speaking Basics, that one of my colleagues who called in sick was schedule to host. Fortunately, all I had to do was make sure the computer and projector screen was set up properly and pass out the handouts. By this time, though, I was quite exhausted and I admit a few yawns escaped my mouth--not for a lack of interest, though. Thanks to the hard work of my colleague, the Lawrence Public Library is now a cooperating collection for the Foundation Center, and we can provide lots of useful information for nonprofits and individuals seeking grants.

As hectic as this day may have been, it did make the time go pretty quickly. As much as I love working at the library, some days I, too, appreciate quittin' time. Just thirty more minutes now, and I get to call it a day!

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

If there's one thing I love about being a librarian, it's making displays. Back when I thought I wanted to be a teacher in college, the idea of making bulletin boards to promote authors or books excited me, and I'm happy that even though my desire to teach elementary or high school students had waned, I still get to promote materials in this way. I don't really consider myself all that crafty, but I enjoy designing and making signs and using props to catch the attention of patrons. The purpose of our displays at Lawrence Public Library is to market the materials and get patrons to check them out. For this month, I just finished putting up a holiday themed Staff Picks display. Using a pretty metallic blue, generic holiday wrapping paper from my closet at home and a simple sign, I decorated one of our display shelves to promote favorite items in our collection chosen by some of our staff. In the spirit of sharing picks, below are some of the titles that I chose for this display.

I love telling people about this first title. A super model who drives herself to the hospital after getting her lower jaw blown off in a tragic accident meets a transsexual undergoing speech therapy who calls herself Brandy Alexander (and many other names) and runs away with her to Canada. There, one distracts real estate agents touring mansions while the other steals medications from the bathrooms to sell in night clubs. Generally it pretty much hooks the reader. Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk is probably one of my all time top picks--I remember first reading it in one sitting at an overnight job I had right out of college. Whether it's the awesome character development, the intense imagery and detail, or the many random facts thrown in the mix, everything about the book just pulled me in. And the little bits of wisdom! My favorite scene from the book is when the narrator and Brandy are at the top of Seattle's space needle flinging postcards off the edge of the structure. On the back of each they scribble secret truths like "All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring." and "If you love something, set it free. Just don't be surprised if it comes back with herpes." Love it!

I don't typically read non-fiction, but every now and then when I'm scanning the new titles that come into our catalog, I'll find one that sparks my interest and I'll check it out. Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher was one of those titles. My senior year of undergrad at Graceland, I took a course called "Language and Culture," by individual study with Dr. Jerri DeNuccio, the chair of the humanities department. For a couple of hours a week, I sat in his office and discussed readings on linguistics and the effects of language on culture. Through the Language Glass brought me back to those weekly sessions. With colorful examples and anecdotes, Deutscher makes the case that culture does influence language and vice versa and that different languages can lead their speakers to different thoughts. Even if I didn't have my undergraduate background, I wouldn't have been lost in Deutscher's explanations and that's what, I think, makes a nonfiction read great.

I love a good dystopian novel. I loved Lois Lowry's The Giver, Jeanne DuPrau's The City of Ember, and most recently, Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games series. But one futuristic satire that I really enjoyed was Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. A thought provoking, and kind of startling, look at how our focus on commercialism, capitalism, and youth can and may lead to the deterioration of the individual to clueless, superficial droids obsessed with pleasure and living forever. In some ways I really related to the main character, Lenny Abramov, an enthusiast for those dusty, moth eaten things nobody uses anymore--books. He just wants to fit in and make his 20-something Korean-American girlfriend love him, and it's with his "Super Sad True Love Story" that Shteyngart illustrates the catastrophes of the age of information gone wrong.

Pecola Breedlove is the central character of my last pick. I first met and adored Pecola at the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theater in Chicago on an Honors Program trip back in October of 2006. I was touched by Alana Arenas's portrayal of an eleven year old girl struggling with her own image and the societal pressures to confirm to "true" beauty that surrounded, strangled and oppressed her. Pecola is from Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, an honest, intense look at how popular culture and its focus on Caucasian as beauty can skew the self image of young, African American girls (or anyone who doesn't fit into the blue-eyed, blond hair box) to the point of unhealthy obsession. The following semester, I read the book for a seminar class taught by Professor of English, Dr. Barbara Hiles Mesle, focusing solely on Morrison's novels, and it instantly became one of my favorites. I loved it so much that it was the focus of my term paper at the end of the semester titled, "Peices of Pecola: The Bluest Eye Reflects the Struggle of Beauty and Self Love in All." I actually loved all of Morrison's books and will probably end up putting them all on the Staff Picks display at some point if it's popular enough.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Quo Vadis or Whither goest thou?

After a brief distraction with Haruki Murakami's newest, 1Q84, (a mammoth of book that I would have spent weeks finishing reading if it weren't for the limited 2 week check out period and the inability to renew because of holds...), I've found my way back to my Nobel reading list. Having to acquire the past few titles through interlibrary loan, I can't express my relief and surprise that my next book, W.S. Kuniczak's translation of Henryk Sienkiewick's Quo Vadis, was available at my library! And what acclaim the title has! From the back of the book: "Written nearly a century ago and translated into over 40 languages, Quo Vadis has been the greatest best-selling novel in the history of literature."

According to the Wikipedia article about him, Sienkiewicz is often misunderstood to have won the Nobel prize in recognition of Quo Vadis. However, in agreement with my previous understanding that the award is usually given in recognition of a writer's body of work, the committee only attributed "his outstanding merits as an epic writer." A Polish journalist and author, Sienkiewicz was well known for his historical novels, many of which appeared as series in newspapers (Wikipedia). Like one of the previous Nobel prize winners, Frédéric Mistral, he too had a passion for the authenticity of his native language.

I'm about six chapters into the reading, and right know, I can't say that I care much for a couple of the main characters. Not that they're not well developed. I just find them kind of despicable. Petronius (the name makes me think of Harry Potter and the Patronus Charm) lives in the lap of luxury as a Roman noble with his slave masseurs, private baths, and succulent feasts. When his nephew, Vinicius, a Roman soilder, expresses his obsession, or "love," for Ligia, a woman who grew up in the household of another noble as a hostage given to the empire by her people, he manages to rip her from the family she grew up with so Vinicius can woo her.

Now, I understand the historical context in which the book was written, but it still disturbs me when women are treated like materials that can be traded, stolen or bartered for (or anyone for that matter). The wannabe philosopher he is, Petronius even contemplates whether women have souls like men or are like animals. This is why I find him detestable. His nephew's alright...but I'm sure I'll find some reason to dislike him too. Despite these character flaws, I'm appreciating the historical look at the Roman civilization--it's not too often that I read historical fiction. On with the read!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Book, book, book!"

I heard the cutest joke last night while watching The Librarians, an Australian comedy about a Catholic bigot who's the head librarian at the "Melbourne Interactive Learning Center." I've adapted it from memory:

A chicken walks up to the desk at the library and says, "Book, book, book!" The librarian responds "Sure thing!" and gives her 3 books and watches her walk away. After a few minutes, the chicken returns and says, "Book, book, book!" The librarian gives the chicken three more books and says, "I'm a fast reader too!"

After another few minutes, the chicken comes back again and says, "Book, book, book!" Curious, the librarian gives the chicken three more books and follows her out the door. The chicken goes across the the street to a pond and gives the books to a frog who says, "Read it, read it, read it."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

eBooks and Audiobooks, Oh My!

After helping my supervisor with training sessions on our new “technology toolboxes” (a collection of eReaders our library was able to purchase with the funds from a grant) and participating in the beta testing for the State Library of Kansas’s new provider for downloadable audiobooks, I have sort of become one of the go-to’s for all questions relating to downloadable eBooks and audiobooks available through the library. The funny thing is, I don’t own an eReader and I rarely listen to audiobooks.

You might be thinking I’m old fashioned and claim to prefer the feeling of a physical book in my hand over scrolling through a digital title--but that’s certainly not the case. I love the idea of being able to store thousands of books on one little device, being able to transport that library anywhere in a backpack or your pocket, and never having to worry about the deterioration of the book. I’d love to get my hands on a Nook, or a Kindle Fire, or even one of those nifty iPads--I just can’t afford one. That sort of became an added benefit to working at my library--we purchased the eReaders (4 Sony eReaders, 4 Kindles, 4 Nooks and 4 iPads) for two reasons: 1. Staff can now have the chance to explore and experiment with them and then be ready to answer questions patrons may have, and 2. We’re planning on setting up a kiosk where patrons can do the same and possibly answer their own questions.

What about audiobooks? The library currently has a very extensive collection of physical CD and MP3 CD’s that are (somewhat) easily transferable to computers and portable devices, but there are those who want even more convenience and want to be able to download them from home. This is why and how Overdrive, the former platform for audiobooks and eBooks, became popular over the last three or four years. But now that the State Library’s contract is ending with OverDrive and it's kind of become a dirty word for Kansas librarians, there’s been a noticeable increase interest in both audiobooks and eBooks. I can't remember the last day I've gone without answering questions about what the new platforms will be and which devices will be compatible with the content.

If you ask me, the whole transition has been kind of a headache. Though it was helpful to do the beta testing for OneClickdigital, the new audiobook platform, I still feel like there hasn’t been enough time to learn everything and then help make sure everyone on staff knows enough to be able to answer questions about it. And the bigger headache is the gap in service for eBooks. The State Library tentatively will be testing the new platform the first week of December, but then we’re still not quite sure when the service will be available to’s pretty much out of our (city library’s) hands. In the meantime, we’ll be directing patrons to other sources for free downloadable books, like Project Gutenberg or Google eBooks, but I know those will far from satisfy the demands some may have.

These transition pains come on top of the questions about eBooks and audiobooks we already get at the Reference Desk, and when we try to explain what's going on with the State Library and OverDrive and the new platform, we sometimes get tongue tied. So after all this, would I still be interested in an eReader if I had the funds or a holiday gifter willing to spend that much on me? Sure! I’ll just close this post by hinting again at how much I do love the iPad...

Friday, November 25, 2011

They should really call it "Frantic Friday"

Over on Twitter last night and this morning, I didn't hesitate to express my feelings about Black Friday--honestly, it kind of upsets and disgusts me. When I saw an article about the incident in California in which a woman used pepper spray to gain access to "door buster" merchandise, it just furthered that disgust. I find it sad that discounted products bring out this primordial beast within people, and they fight like a bunch of starving hyena's chasing after some scrawny gazelle. I realize this isn't the first year that something like this has happened--people have been getting trampled, shot, and even killed on this day for years now, just so others can save money on products that corporations convince them they or their loved ones need.

Part of me would like to claim that I'm frugal. When my fiance and I were first living together, I sometimes felt that I was the only one keeping a budget in mind, and this caused a few issues for us. He wanted nice shelves, posters for the walls, a brand new couch, and a 47 inch flat screen T.V. so he could feel a little more at home. I was content with my hand-me-down couch, console T.V. and a few old nik-knacks. Shopping was always an unpleasant experience, because we'd always end up upsetting each other. It's not as bad now, but when my fiance tells me about great deals on things like Blu-Ray movies, video games and consoles, video cameras and computers, I still feel a little wrench in my stomach. But I do have to admit that I can get excited over a good deal. Just this past July, I spent nearly an hour waiting in line at Urban Outfitters for a couple of hoodies and a sweater at a sidewalk sale. However, I didn't shove my way through the crowd, knock displays over and attack people who got to something before I did.

For necessities like food, toilet paper, shampoo, clothes, etc., I do understand the importance and value of a good deal. However, working at a public library has really opened my eyes to how much a person can really save when it comes to things like books, movies, music and other forms of entertainment. Every year when my parents, siblings or friends ask me what I want for the holidays, I have a horrible time coming up with something, because anything I'd come up with I could borrow, or probably have borrowed, from the library. So I might just ask them to save me the trouble of accumulating more nice, but really unnecessary things to clutter my already crowded apartment, and donate money or items to their local libraries. That, I think, would make me feel much better.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Librarian's Thanksgiving

Ah. Thanksgiving. Before diving in to the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy bowls, and whatever other delights whoever in the kitchen cooks up, many families pause and share a few things that they're thankful for. My family, scattered and a little unconventional, sometimes forgoes this tradition and digs right in. With gobs of grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles, step siblings, spouses and what not, it can be a little time consuming. Before you know it, someone's belly deep in greenbean caserole anyway. So I decided share my Thanksgiving here. Though I am thankful for things like my family, my fiance, and my health, I thought I'd take a moment and express gratitude for some books, music, and television shows that I've read, listened to, watched and experienced this year.

I love when books make me feel something. Whether it's fear, anger, sadness, I know it's a good book when these feelings flood my senses and I cannot put it down. One book that I read this year that did that for me was Haruki Murakami's After Dark. It just made me feel a little strange. Character driven, the book focuses on Mari, a Japanese student studying Chinese, and Tetsuya, an amateur trombonist, who meet late at night at a Denny's restaurant. They somehow get involved in helping a "love hotel" attendant clean up and assist a badly beaten Chinese prostitute. Interwoven with this story is a strange account of Mari's older sister, who's been asleep in a menacing netherworld for days. Murakami's novels, always on the edge of creepy, mystical and strange, never seem to disappoint.

When I was probably 13 or so, I developed an intense liking of the television show, Roseanne. I would stay up late each night to catch the two rerun episodes after the 9 o'clock news, and no matter how many times I watched an episode, I laughed and enjoyed it over and over again. This year, Roseanne released Roseannearchy: Dispatches from the Nut Farm, a collection of ranting essays that exposes the ridiculousness in just about everthing. Though some may find "the Domestic Goddess" to be too rude and outspoken, I've always appreciated her honesty and uninhibited eagerness to express her opnion. After reading the book, I posted one of my favorite quotes on Twitter and tagged her, and I was thrilled to find she actually responded to me! The quote: "Religion needs to be less about believing things and more about beholding things, sharing and healing and bringing people together, not separating them." I love her perspective on life, and I love how much I've learned from reading her essays.

Though I was about four years late in the game, I also developed a similar passion for Desperate Housewives. No other television show has made me feel such a plethora of emotions--I've laughed, I've cried, I've been enraged and disappointed (most recently so because the producers of the show have announced that the current season will be the last). I love each of the main characters for different reasons, but I think Lynette is the one I relate to and like the most, probably because she seems the most real to me. Felicity Huffman does a wonderful job portraying the headstrong mother and wife who isn't afraid or unable to accept and acknowledge her weaknesses. Desperate has been one show that my fiance and I have been able to enjoy together and I'm thankful for how much it has moved and taught me.

I'm really thankful for this year's music. I was amazed by how many of my favorite musicians have released new material. It used to be that when I got a new album, I would spend at least a week listening to it over and over again until I got tired of it or I got something newer. Now I just rip albums to my iTunes, listen to a couple of songs repeatedly, and then they sort of get lost in the shuffle. Noah and the Whale's Last Night on Earth, Lykke Li's Wounded Rhymes, Adele's 21, and Feist's Metals are just a few that deserve another listen. I also had the wonderful opportunity this year to travel to Texas to see my all time favorite artist, Jewel, in a free, private fan concert. Though she focused on children's music this year with The Merry Goes Round, I still am amazed at her lyrics and her voice, and I adore her for her willingness to explore different styles of music.

And I think I'll stop there--this post has probably taken longer than a turkey cooking in the oven (and you may be thinking it's getting just as dry too). One more thing that I'm thankful for, though, is those who take the time to read my blog posts! I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

About me and my path to librarianship

Hello! And welcome to my blog! My name is William! If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that my bio says I'm a librarian, poet, human being living in Kansas - but since I have more than 140 characters I think I'll take the liberty to extrapolate. I currently work as a Reference Librarian at the Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, Kansas. I love all things poetry and currently host a Poetry Social once a month at the library, and I've been living in Kansas pretty much since I was born. And I don't want to forget to mention that I'm married to the love of my life, Nathan, whose encouragement and support in all things I do means the world to me. Now let me explain how I've come to be where I am now...

Deeply appreciative for what I had learned and for those who had taught me, I have, since graduating high school, sought a career path that would allow me to give back the knowledge and experience I had gained. When I left my home town, Tonganoxie, to attend Graceland University, a small private college in Iowa, I had every intention to become a certified teacher so I could come back and teach mathematics at my high school. However, what I realized quickly was things don't always go according to plan.

Unsatisfied with the field of education, I kept my mathematics focus, but also added a major in English with concentrations in both writing and literature. When I informed my advisor of my intentions she laughed and told me that I would be there for ten years. I graduated after four, having committed myself to course loads of up to 24 credit hours a semester, sleepless nights filled with papers and projects, and lots of coffee. It was at this point that I decided that in the near future I would continue my education with a Master in Library Science. Upon leaving Graceland, I gained employment as a paraeducator at a high school close to my home town and worked two other part time jobs just to make ends meet. I loved working with the students and delighted in those moments when I knew at least one person gained something valuable from me, but there was something missing. After a year, I submitted my application for the School of Library and Information Management at Emporia State University and officially began my path toward becoming a librarian.

In the summer of 2009, after an observation at a reference desk, a thank you note, and an interview, I was invited to join the adult services staff at the Lawrence Public Library as a reference assistant. It's here where I truly felt I began to thrive in my job responsibilities, which included assisting patrons at the reference desk, completing research requests, and participating on a number of committees. This active experience in a library setting while attending library school enhanced my education beyond words. Shortly after graduating, I obtained a professional position thanks to the encouragement and support of my supervisor.

Through the course of my life I have taken on roles of a son, a brother, a student, a reader, a writer, a dreamer, a pizza maker, a deli clerk, a paraeducator, and now I'm proud to say I am a Reference Librarian! Now, I hope you'll enjoy my musings...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gossip? Girl, that ain't no good

The other night, I actually got up at 3:30 a.m. and finished The Great Galeoto! Though I've never been a huge fan of reading plays (I'd much rather see them), I kind of enjoyed reading this one. Something I didn't quite pick up on in the first 50 pages of the play became the focal point of the entire plot, and as finally I gained understanding, I became more interested. I don't recall ever being so engaged while reading a play.

In the last post, I explained that Don Severo thought that Ernest was taking advantage of Don Julian and Teodora's hospitality. In actuality, Severo and his wife, Mercedes, who for some reason hold a grudge against Ernest, started spreading the vicious rumor that Ernest was having an affair with Teodora. To avoid further trouble, Ernest moves out of Don Julian's and gets his own apartment. Hearing a viscount announce the rumor and insult Teodora in a club, Ernest quickens to anger and schedules a dual with the man to defend Teodora's honor. Don Julian, initially ignorant of the rumor, hears of Ernest plans and intervenes, dueling the viscount himself. Bleeding and near death and newly aware of Ernest's and Teodora's supposed affair, he's taken to Ernest's only to find Teodora hiding in the bedroom of the apartment. This ultimately convinces Don Julian of the rumor.

In the introduction to the edition, Elizabeth Hunt discussed the title, explaining that Galeoto is a reference to the go-between for Queen Guinevere and Lancelot. In the play, "They," or the general public, are the Galeoto who gossip and spread the rumor which eventually spoils Don Julian's happiness. What bothered me was that Don Julian didn't even bother to ask for Ernest's and Teodora's explanation as to why she was in the apartment--to figure out how to dispel the rumor and convince people they weren't in love. But I guess half the trouble was caused by Teodora hiding in Ernest's bedroom.

Now, on to the my next Nobel read, which, I'm excited to say, is available at my place of work, Lawrence Public Library! But that's another post!

Monday, November 14, 2011

No way, José!

Last Thursday, I attended a Mid-America Library Alliance (KCMLIN) workshop on blogging, presented by Rebecca Vnuk, Editor for Reference and Collection Management at Booklist and co-creator and author of Shelf Renewal--a fantastic book blog covering backlist titles. Among several great tips, Rebecca suggested that if one hasn't posted in two or three weeks, there's clearly room for improvement. Needless to say, I received another kick in the pants to keep on task and update this blog--one I think too good to give up. I've been holding on to my next Nobel title, having received it through interlibrary loan nearly two weeks ago, and I am just now making my way through its tattered and worn pages.

What I found fascinating about José Echegaray y Eizaguirre, Nobel recipient alongside Frédéric Mistral in 1904, was that he had interests and talent in both mathematics and writing. The main reason being that I, too, excelled in both areas, having double majored in English and mathematics in my undergraduate studies. In contemplating what I should do with my life, a high school math teacher of mine once jokingly suggested I write math books, which causes me to wonder if José ever thought the same. Elizabeth R. Hunt, however, explained in the introduction to Hannah Lynch's translation of Echegaray's The Great Galeoto, that the dramatist and mathematician spent thirteen years teaching advanced topics in math and served as Minister of Commerce of Education and of Finance for seven years before becoming known as a dramatist (p. vi).

Though I'm only about 50 pages into the play, I agree that the vocational switch was a good choice for José. So far, the play focuses on a Don Julian and his wife, Teodora, who have taken in Ernest, a struggling playwright, after the death of Ernest's father. Don Julian, committed to repaying a debt to Ernest's father, convinces Ernest to act as his secretary in order to fool Julian's brother, Don Severo, who's convinced Ernest may be taking advantage of the situation. It may not be the most intense and exciting of situations, but I'm interested in seeing where the play is taken next. As for the language and writing, I can't complain--it's easy to follow and quick to get through--just about 100 more pages and I'll be on to my next Nobel read.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Language matters and a love story

Upon reading the forward to Frédéric Mistral's Anglore: The Song of the Rhone, I discovered how inappropriate it was of me to title my last post in French. James Geddes, Professor in Boston University, explained that Mistral was not a native speaker of what was the official French, but a "local provincial speech." Mistral apparently felt such strong ties to his native tongue, the Occitan language, that he, along with a teacher of his and five other Provençal poets joined together to form a "literary and cultural association" with the goal of promoting it (Wikipedia). To him, language was a significant factor in defining race, and with his poetry, he intended to revive his native tongue.

As I found with previous Nobel titles, I'm feeling that it's a misfortune that I am reading an English translation of the poem--but even if I could read the Occitan language, I still may have some challenges with fully comprehending the text. Whether it's because of archaic vocabulary, inverted syntax or the rhythmic meter which distracts my mind from the content at times, reading lengthy narrative poetry has always been a challenge for me--and Anglore is no exception. There are great descriptions of the settings that may make me think, "Oh, what lovely imagery!" but in order to glean the basic elements of the plot, I find myself having to re-read sections a couple of times.

What I have drawn so far on my own, though, besides its descriptions of the Rhone, a major European river, and the surrounding valley, the poem tells the story of skipper Apain, who's leading his fleet of ships down the river for some kind of festival at a distant city. They are joined by "The Prince of Orange" who pines for this L'Anglore lady. Fortunately, though, re-reading the forward has given me a better idea of the characters and the plot. The story focusing around Prince of Orange and L'Anglore, who are actually "two beings half real and half mythical," is a love tale, and there is a surrounding motif that is nostalgic of the days preceding the advent of steam powered ships.

Though the reading has been a bit laborious and time consuming--when I do take the time to sit a down and actually read--I'm enjoying the historical aspects of the story and learning about life on the Rhone through Mistral's perspective. My next Nobel title has already arrived through interlibrary loan, though, so I should probably double my efforts to get through this one!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Je ne suis pas abandonner!

The other day a coworker asked me how this blog and project was coming, and I admitted that I had turned my attention to other things. I sheepishly explained that the process of tracking down titles by Nobel Prize winning authors was just too time consuming and that I had turned my attention to other things. Those other things being other books that I much preferred to read, like Roseanne's Roseannearchy: Dispatches from the Nut Farm, Planet of the Apes (I wanted to explore all things Apes after seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Augusten Burroughs's Sellevision, and Chuck Palahniuk's upcoming release, Damned. Also, I spent some creative energy on updates for the Lawrence Public Library's blog: The Spotlight, tweets, and Facebook statuses. In further reflection, though, I've decided that that's no excuse.

And so, I've decided I'm not giving up! Returning to the list of winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature, I find that in 1904--where I left off--the prize was divided equally between two writers: Frédéric Mistral and José Echegaray y Eizaguirre. The former was a French poet and the later a Spanish dramatist. Their works must have be so significant that the Nobel committee mustn't have been able to choose between the two. I imagine them sitting around a table, angry fisted and red faced, arguing defensively for each title. Then again, maybe not...

Anyway, in order to avoid overwhelming myself, I've decided to focus my attention on obtaining a title by one of the writers at this time. I've placed an interlibrary loan request for Maro Beath Jones's translation of Frédéric Mistral's Lou Pouèmo dóu Rose. According to, Mr. Mistral was awarded "in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist." The particular title that I chose (at random, really) isn't recognized as his most important work (the Provençal poem Mirèio is), but I'm sure it won't be too bad--he did win the Nobel Prize for Literature after all.

So now I just wait for the arrival of the book--which may take up to two weeks. Look forward to more updates!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bjørnson's Melodiousness ness ness

One thing I've come to like about reading volumes of poetry is that it's mostly quick reading. If I've only got 15 minutes to spare, I can easily knock out 50 pages of reading and not feel uneasy about stopping in the middle of a chapter or paragraph. But some would probably say that that's not how you're "supposed" to read poetry, and I do agree to some extent. Depending on the content, length and vocabulary of the poem, some may take a little more time to read, understand and appreciate. Former Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Robert Pinsky, was of the opinion that "Reading a poem silently instead of saying a poem is like the difference between staring at sheet music and actually humming or playing the music on an instrument." I don't know how much my my coworkers, though, would appreciate me reciting Norwegian poetry in the break room at work...

In the few moments that I've had time to read in the past week, I've been enjoying the poetry form Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's Digte og Sange (Poems and Songs). Most of the verses are between 20 to 30 lines and aren't abstract enough to require too much time and contemplation. With rhythm, alliteration, and rhyme sequences, Bjornson's words flow in a melody unique to each verse. In the introduction to the volume, printed in 1915, the translator, Arthur Hubbell Palmer, praises the melodiousness, or "singability," of Bjørnson's poems, explaining that "they have inspired composers of music to pour out their strains." Even I find myself, after reading several, thinking and almost speaking in rhythm and rhyme!

One poem that I've read so far that sticks out to me is Ingerid Sletten. I appreciate poems that tell stories, and a number of Bjørnson's have plot lines like this one. The speaker tells of woman's attachment to a wool hood that her mother had given to her, and that she keeps for twenty, thirty, forty years "With her mother ever in mind." She loves it so much that she plans to wear it to her wedding. However, in the last stanza we find disappointment: "She steps to the chest where the hood has lain / And seeks it with swelling heart; / She guides her hand to its place apart, / But never a thread did remain." The poem is short--24 lines arranged in 6 stanzas--but I could easily imagine it arranged as a cute folk song with its rhythm and rhyme scheme. As I continue reading, too, I find what Palmer said about the melodiousness true for many of Bjørnson's poems and, if I had more musical talent, I think it would be fun to arrange something for one of them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Digte og Sange I Can Read!

My first thought when reading about the next Nobel Prize winner, Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson, was "Oh great, here we go again!" Another poet, another foreign language I don't speak, and another barrier. According to, Mr. Bjørnson was awarded "as a tribute to his noble, magnificent and versatile poetry, which has always been distinguished by both the freshness of its inspiration and the rare purity of its spirit." He's known as one of "The Four Great" Norwegian writers, and he wrote the lyrics to the Norwegian National Anthem, "Ja, vi elsker dette landet" (Wikipedia).

Having written verses since the age of eleven, Bjørnson decided to pursue his talent and studied at the University of Olso, moving on to a career in journalism and drama criticism. If it were available to the public, I'd be interested in reading some of the writing he did as a young teen and comparing it to his later works. It's neat to see how a writer develops over time. Anyway, Bjørnson seems to have led a very accomplished and interesting life. He worked as a theater director, wrote a number of plays and novels alongside his poetry, and he was even exiled from Norway for a short time for his political opinions.

In searching for a work by Mr. Bjørnson, I was delighted to find that my initial concern was unnecessary. How relieved I was to discover that there are full English translations of some of his volumes of poetry! Some of his novels have been translated as well, but as the Nobel site specifically mentioned his verse, I thought I'd stick to that. Unfortunately, though, my library doesn't carry anything by him...but that's not a problem either, thanks to Interlibrary loan! I'm currently awaiting the arrival of Digte og Sange (Poems and Songs), and I look forward to reading his work!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

When in Rome...

Between work, spending time with my partner and planning a wedding, I haven't taken too much time to devote to the reading, but I've finally made it through the first chapter, a whopping 64 pages, of Mr. Mommsen's The Provinces of the Roman Empire. I have to say it's just as exciting as I had imagined it to be. Though the language isn't really difficult, I find my mind wandering away from the text, and this forces me to reread sentences and paragraphs. With my limited 8th grade understanding of world geography and a complete unfamiliarity with the history and important figures of the Roman Empire, I just cannot seem to concentrate on or relate to the subject matter. That's not to say, though, that whatever I do glean from the text I don't find interesting.

The first chapter from Volume 5, Book 8 focuses on the conquests of the Roman Empire past the northern frontier of Italy under the rule of Augustus. Never having been good at memorizing dates and names, I'm overjoyed that I won't have to take a quiz over the information--as I'm sure I'd probably fail it. What I found most interesting, though, was the idea that the Romans, as a nation, felt it their right or destiny to charge into foreign territories and claim them as their own, taxing the inhabitants and setting laws for them to follow. Though I know the Romans aren't the only people to have done so in history, it's difficult to imagine today one country just waltzing into another, occupying it by means of battle, and claiming rule over it. Then again, I guess it isn't too much of a stretch from the United States and its presence in the Middle East.

Anyway, the Romans didn't always have it so easy, especially when it came to the occupation of the province of Germany. Clearly unhappy with foreign rule, the Germans rightfully revolted--sometimes being successful in their attempts and sometimes not. Though I often times found the subject matter hard to stick with while I read, Mr. Mommsen's descriptions of the events and battles, translated to English by William P. Dickson, are detailed and seem to flow at times as if they were a part of a novelized form of history. His word choice too, at times, is particularly admirable, as I sometimes needed to direct my browser to I can only hope my next reading won't be quite as laborious...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mr. Mommsen's History

I've always found history fascinating, but at the same time, I've always found history books completely and utterly boring. I don't think I did anything more than skim my history textbooks in high school, and as I entered college, it was even worse, because the books had fewer to no pictures in them! So you could imagine my excitement when I discovered that the next winner of the Nobel Prize, Theodor Mommsen, pretty much wrote history books. According to, he was recognized as "the greatest living master of the art of historical writing." So maybe reading Mr. Mommsen's work won't be too much of a snooze.

From what I read about Mr. Mommsen, or Christian Matthais Theodor Mommsen, on Wikipedia and, it sounds as if he led a pretty fascinating life--as fascinating a life one could have being a historian and professor of Roman History. He did, though, father 16 children with his wife. Wow. Among his academic achievements and all that historical research and writing, how did he find the time?! Also of particular interest was a fire in 1880 in his workroom-library that consumed several manuscripts, important writings on loan from the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, and possibly the Manuscript of Jordanes from Heidelberg University library. Those librarians must have felt pretty crunchy.

Mr. Mommsen was particularly noted for his five volume "monumental work," A history of Rome. Now, I do not plan to read all five volumes. That would take way too much time. And to admit, I don't even plan to read an entire volume. A title of Mr. Mommsen's that's most easily accessible to me is The Provinces of the Roman Empire: The European Provinces, a selection from the 5th volume, book 8 of A History of Rome. It's the only title of Mr. Mommsen's that my library owns (and one that looks as if it may be weeded it soon, as it's not very attractive and appears to not have been checked out since 2004). I could do an inter-library loan for something more, but it would take two weeks to get, and I fear this project's going to take enough time already.

Anyway, 338 pages from Mr. Mommsen sounds good enough for me. So, on to my next read...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sully's Yearnings

I can't justify just examining one poem and moving on, so I'm going to continue with Mr. Prudhomme, at least for one more post. Le Long Du Quai (Along the Quay) and Soupir (Sigh) were the next two poems that I appreciated the most of those I did find. These two poems and their English translations were included in The Ring of Words: An Anthology of Song Texts, which I obtained through Inter-library Loan. I can't tell you how much I value that service!

The most effective writing tool, for me at least, is detailed imagery--especially when someone describes something in a way I had never thought of or heard before. The first stanza of Le Long Du Quai (Along the Quay) provides two separate, yet parallel images: large ships resting in a body of water, rising and falling with the waves and women rocking cradles. I love the personification of the ships that "take no thought of the cradles / rocked by the hands of the women." The speaker goes on to explain that there will come a day when the ships will sail off, leaving behind the women who are caring after children.

I think many can understand the sadness the women feel when their lovers take off over the seas, as described in the second stanza. I'm distraught when I don't get to see my partner for a day because of our uncoordinated work schedules. I couldn't imagine waiting months to see him again! In the concluding stanza, the speaker expresses the sorrow of the those aboard the ship as well. Furthering the personification, the ships "feel their hulks restrained / by the soul of the distant cradles." I'm not a parent, but I know I would hate to be the father of a child and be absent for such an extended period of time. I would want to be there for every moment of their life possible.

The second poem, Soupir (Sigh), has a very similar theme. The word choice is simple, but the anguish of the speaker, separated from the one he loves, is demonstrated effectively, especially through the repetition of the phrase "always to love her" at the end of each stanza. The first and the last open with, "Never to see her or hear her, / never to breathe her name aloud..." I imagine two lovers separated across seemingly untraversable distances, or even across the threshold between life and death.

Though the poem isn't fraught with imagery, metaphors and similes, I find it effective in the sense that I can relate to it. Whether it has been in mourning for a loved one who's died, or in times when I've been separated from my partner for extended periods of time, I know the despair the speaker expresses when you think you may never see someone again. Though the speaker gives no hint as to which situation is the case, I find the fact that he will always love the one he's separated from endearing.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is your vase brisé?

As a writer, I've always found it tough to write about love. I dread being trite and cliche, and whenever I try to express my feelings on paper, whatever comes out usually sounds forced and filtered--at least to my ears. However, there have been a few times that I've felt I've done a decent job. The majority of the translated poems by Sully Prudhomme that I came across have themes of love or relationships, and just like with my own poems, there are some that I appreciate and some that I would probably never share with my own lover.

Of the poems of Sully's that I've found, I like Le Vase Brisé (The Broken Vase) the most. The speaker of the poem compares the heart, wounded "by the hand we love," to a vase "cracked by a blow from a fan." Just as a crack in a vase may widen and cause it to leak, letting the water within drain and the flower in it to die, the wounded heart often "cracks by itself / and the flower of its love dies."

Because the crack is small and spreads slowly, the leak in the vase isn't suspected. The speaker points out that the heart, too, is perceived to be intact--unharmed--"in the eyes of the world." I probably appreciate this poem the most because I can relate to this image. I can recall several times when my own feelings have gone unnoticed by those around me, or when I've overlooked the anguish of another.

Sully's poem leads me to reflect on those times when my feelings do go unnoticed, and to wonder how I could be more aware of the feelings of those around me. The speaker cautions the reader to not touch the cracked vase or the wounded heart. "It's broken. Don't touch!" What would happen if someone were to do so? How could one further harm the heart? What would the repercussions be?