Reader’s Corner: Great Otherworldly Librarians

(Courtesy DC Comics)

Batgirl, when she’s not shelving (courtesy DC Comics)

Readers of genre fiction—particularly science fiction and fantasy—have a special place in their hearts for bookstores, libraries, and other (preferably dark and quiet) repositories of the written word. While librarians would seem to most like a prickly breed, they tend to show up in works of the fantastic as heroes, or at least very valuable allies.

Thanks to the smart folks at Tor, here’s a look at some of the more awesome fantasy/sci-fi librarians, ranging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Sandman comics.

It’s a solid list, all in all (even if it does miss out on the omnisciently Jeeves-ian Librarian from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash), though they do pale in comparison to Barbara Gordon, the occasional librarian otherwise known as Batgirl.

Reader’s Corner: When Faulkner Reviewed Hemingway

faulkner1

William Faulkner, 1954 (Library of Congress)

Ernest Hemingway had no problem with expounding on his talent, courage, or general manliness. To nobody’s surprise, this didn’t arise from a well of confidence but rather one of rabid insecurity. Just see his rivalry with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and all those petty little put-downs in A Moveable Feast.

Papa Hemingway also scrapped (albeit in a mildly literary way) with the other big prize-winning author of his time, William Faulkner. They respected each other, but found time to lob critiques back and forth.

oldmanandthesea1When the literary magazine Shenandoah prevailed upon Faulkner to review The Old Man and the Sea, he found room to list Hemingway’s faults but, interestingly, in the context of praising the novel. Here’s an excerpt of that review from Open Culture (emphasis added):

Time may show it to be the best single piece of any of us, I mean his and my contemporaries. This time, he discovered God, a Creator. Until now, his men and women had made themselves, shaped themselves out of their own clay; their victories and defeats were at the hands of each other, just to prove to themselves or one another how tough they could be. But this time, he wrote about pity: about something somewhere that made them all: the old man who had to catch the fish and then lose it, the fish that had to be caught and then lost, the sharks which had to rob the old man of his fish; made them all and loved them all and pitied them all. It’s all right. Praise God that whatever made and loves and pities Hemingway and me kept him from touching it any further.

Makes you want to go back and hunt down all the glories of the novel which too many English teachers have managed to hide.

Readers’ Corner: The Death (and Life) of the Novel

U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942 (Library of Congress)

U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942 (Library of Congress)

Point / counterpoint in the latest round of hand-wringing over the long rumored death of the novel.

First, Will Self in The Guardian, “The novel is dead (this time it’s for real)“:

I believe the serious novel will continue to be written and read, but it will be an art form on a par with easel painting or classical music: confined to a defined social and demographic group, requiring a degree of subsidy, a subject for historical scholarship rather than public discourse.

Granted, Self is taken the opinions of his teenaged son (his “canary” in the cultural coal mine, as it were) perhaps too seriously. Also, he seems to be arguing for the death of something that was already long dead. The novel as the primary cultural artifact was supplanted decades hence by movies, television, what have you. And today, yes, all the cultural elites reading The Goldfinch at the same time as all their friends are often just waiting to start nattering on about Game of Thrones.

goldfinch1David Ulin had a brief riposte to Self’s critique in The Los Angeles Times, that was notable for its lack of patience:

I’m tired of reading about the death of the book. It’s not true, in the first place, and in the second, it’s a lazy signifier, a way of addressing cultural import (or risk) that’s not really justified.

In other words, when people stop reading completely, then we have something to worry about. Nearly 200,000 copies of The Goldfinch have been sold so far this year. Say what you will about it, that’s a book that clocks in at nearly 800 pages and goes for $30 a pop in hardcover. Somebody is still reading out there.

Readers’ Corner: America’s Top Ten Books

"Reading the Bible," Currier & Ives (Library of Congress)

“Reading the Bible,” Currier & Ives (Library of Congress)

The Bible is still the number one book in Americans’ hearts. At least, that’s according to a new poll by Harris Interactive that surveyed American adults to find out what their favorite book was. The rest of the top ten books are all fiction (insert atheist gag here), starting with the somewhat curious inclusion of Gone with the Wind at number two. Here’s the list:

  1. The Bible
  2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
  4. The Lord of the Rings (series) by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  7. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  9. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The poll further breaks down the list by ethnicity, politics, age, geography, and gender. Conservatives and moderates preferring Gone with the Wind while liberals’ fave was the Harry Potter series; either way, everybody likes fantasy.

The last time Harris conducted the same poll was in 2008. Interesting, among the books that dropped off in the intervening six years were Atlas Shrugged, The Stand, and two Dan Brown novels. New on the list since then were a couple classics deserving of the name (The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath), possibly showing that Americans’ tastes are improving. That, or people who really like Ayn Rand and Dan Brown either just aren’t reading anymore, have started to die off, or are sticking with pretending to have read the Bible.

(h/t: New Republic)

Reader’s Corner: Bookpub

 

This idea seems like it was a longtime coming. Take the micro- (or nano-) brewery concept that’s been gathering speed across the country, particularly throughout the Midwest, and combine it with reading. Books and beer.

Per the Indianapolis Star, University of Michigan English major Jason Wuerfel is starting up a certain kind of awesome with his new “Books & Brews” storefront:

A personal touch isn’t the only thing setting Books & Brews a part from the competition. All of the beer served in the bar section of the store is brewed on site by Wuerfel. The bookpub owner (yes, I just coined the term bookpub) also is channeling Willy Wonka by allowing folks who pledged $500 or more to the project’s Kickstarter fund to help design a brew, name it, make it, and put it on tap…

Yes, he made all the furniture himself.

(h/t: The Roundup)

Readers’ Corner: Philip Seymour Hoffman

One more note on the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Back in 2004, he was interviewed by The Believer and the talk sprawled over beyond life and acting into things literary.

yates__paradeHoffman has played a few great figures from both sides of the literary page (Willy Loman, Truman Capote), but that’s not what gave him the credentials for this interview, it’s that he was clearly a passionate reader. Not a lot people out there these days who will stand up and shout for the dark glories of somebody like Richard Yates:

If you do any great art you’re somehow exposing a part of you. Like Richard Yates, Jesus Christ, that book, you almost don’t want to meet him. I kept feeling for the characters as if they existed.

But perhaps most beautifully, he identifies one of the great solaces of reading, that it’s an act in and of itself with no need to be justified. Some won’t care for his comparing it to smoking, but the linkage is clear:

When you read, you think, and when you smoke, you think. It’s a pleasurable thing, and not a duty.

Reader’s Corner: 100 Most Requested Out-of-Print Books

Every year, BookFinder.com compiles a list of the 100 most sought-after out-of-print books. Their 11th annual list was just released and it’s quite the read.

For our sins, the #1 title is Madonna’s oh-so-scandalous “book” Sex. Stephen King makes a few high-up appearances, most surprisingly for the little-known My Little Pony, which was released as a limited edition in 1989 with illustrations by Barbara Kruger. Some other highlights:

  • Nora Roberts (?!) – Promise Me Tomorrow
  • Cameron Crowe – Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • Salvador Dali, J.R.R. Tolkien, others – The Jerusalem Bible
  • Ricky Jay – Cards as Weapons