Friday, April 1, 2016

Musings (or, Spring Break Approaches)!

I was a little bit late walking over to the high school assembly yesterday morning, and as I approached the theatre this scene just bowled me over -- maybe 100 backpacks fairly neatly stacked up outside, waiting confidently for their proper owners to come collect them in 45 minutes.  Just through the lobby doors was a repeat scene.  Around here it's a common sight, but having been to a big public high school for a meeting the night before, I realized again how fortunate we are to enjoy this level of trust in our community.

And only a little bit ironic, since the assembly speaker was J. Tom Morgan, former Dekalb County District Attorney and powerful legal advocate for young people.  It's been a few years since J. Tom last spoke at Paideia, so 75% of the high school had not heard his important message for teens -- "ignorance of the law is no defense."   Spring break, and soon graduation festivities, are coming up, and it's a good time to remind teens in Georgia (where 17-year-olds can be prosecuted as adults) of the life-altering difference a birthday can make!   High school students and parents -- we have a copy in the library, so come check it out.

The days before spring break is also an active time in the library.  Groups of students gather during breaks to prepare for the inevitable "before holiday" tests, quizzes and assignment due-dates.  There's often a cluster of students with iPads around the printers, waiting for a final draft to come out (the stapler usually needs refilling around now too).  The most fun part (for me, and probably for them too) is the re-appearance of the faithful reading customers, having been submerged in schoolwork since the end of short term, now seeing a little room to breathe -- and to read for fun!!! 

I'm gathering all my spring break reading, and downloading some audiobooks & podcasts for the drive.  I always take too much, but it's better than running out!

Right now, it's time to go, so no time to carefully import images and links.  Have a fabulous week, read lots, and enjoy.

Friday, March 11, 2016

What Happens When the Awesome Wears Out?:
Lock In at Book Club

In a talk at Google headquarters, author John Scalzi explained his latest best-seller with this grounding concept -- that what interests him about technology isn't "how awesome the technology is is," but "what happens when the awesome wears out."  As when unimaginably amazing technological advances (a tiny powerful computer in your pants pocket) become so integrated into daily life that we become annoyed when it's not working right (no reception on your smartphone -- crisis!!!).

Last Friday, the high school Book Club met to discuss John Scalzi's most recent best-seller,  Lock In.  Surprisingly, even though it's a mystery thriller, none of the discussion points were even remote spoilers -- the plot wasn't the most interesting aspect of the story.

We talked about what happens when the awesome wears off, and about what happens when a former minority or "protected class" of people becomes (or appear to becomes) fully integrated and accepted members of society?  Should supports be continued to level the playing field, or has the playing field been permanently leveled?  What happens when those folks (like the people who were born Hadens and have never known any other kind of existence) choose a completely different field (in the Agora, a virtual universe for Hadens)?

We watched a couple of Scalzi's responses in the Q&A time of his talk at Google.  If you've read Lock In, did YOU notice that the main character, Chris Schayne, is nowhere in the book identified by gender?  Christopher or Christina?  I confess, I didn't notice it at all -- and revealed my dominant paradigm by making Chris male.  As the author asks in his response -- how does thinking of Chris as the other gender change your interpretation of the story?  Does it change how you see the relationships between characters?  The power dynamics?  Chris' unfortunate habit of destroying rental threeps?  If you ONLY interact with people in a form other than the one you were born in, does gender even have any significance?  Given the recent discussions in the junior high and high school of gender identity, expression and fluidity, these are relevant contemporary questions and ones I hadn't anticipated coming from a best-selling sci fi mystery.

The video should start playing at the end of the previous question.
If the embed link doesn't work, click here to view on YouTube.

Another question the author answers is about writing, and whether he'd adapted his style knowing the book would be produced simultaneously in print and as an audiobook (two audiobooks, in fact -- one with a male narrator, and one with a female narrator!)  Check out his answer at minute 37:00 in the video.

And well, just because it exists, we listened to the official Lock In theme song (honest -- the link came from the author's website)

Review on Boing Boing

Scientific American Q&A with author John Scalzi

Want more sci fi?  Try one of these from the Paideia Library . . .

The Caves of Steel  by Isaac Asimov.  Another sci-fi detective novel featuring humanoid robots.  In this one, a technology-averse human cop investigates a murder, which may or may not have been committed by a robot (against all 3 Laws of Robotics).  The film I, Robot is an adaptation of this story, blended with other Asimov robot stories.

Circuit of Heaven  by Dennis Danvers.  His parents have abandoned their bodies (and their son, Nemo) and uploaded their minds to the Bin, a deathless, disease-free cyber-utopia, leaving a dangerous and unpredictable Earth to the crazies and criminals.  Nemo vows to live and die in a real body in the real world -- until he meets Justine, a new citizen of the Bin.

The Lives of Tao  by Wesley Chu.  Roen Tan, a couch potato IT worker, becomes emergency host body to an alien secret agent working to save humanity.  Tao, the alien, has to whip Roen into super secret agent shape before it's too late.

Redshirts, another bestseller by John Scalzi.   What happens when the guys in the red shirts (you know, the ones in Star Trek standing next to Kirk, Spock, Scotty or Bones, who always get eaten, blown up or otherwise obliterated in some dumbhead move?) start to compare notes and figure out there's a pattern to their comrades' demise?

And of course, Book Club's inaugural title from 2013, Ready Player One  by Ernest Cline.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Club Reads Into The Future

A quick news blurb came into my newsreader yesterday, saying that Ernest Cline's 1980s video-game-saturated dystopian thriller, Ready Player One, has vaulted up's sales rankings in the past 3 days, thanks to a lengthy mention in a Technology article from Tuesday's New York Times.  The article is about high-tech virtual reality developers, such as Oculus, maker of a VR headset, using science fiction as inspiration to imagine future uses for their creations.

It just so happens that Paideia's High School book club was way ahead of Oculus -- Ready Player One was our very first club choice, back in March 2013, and is still one of our favorite reads (and a 2012 Alex Award winner).  An 11th grade student asked me this week for a cumulative list of all the book club choices, which made me realize 1) I've not posted about book club in far too long, and 2) it's quite a cool list.

Today is great timing for coming full-circle with science fiction, since our upcoming book club selection for March is another virtual reality-based sci fi novel, Lock In, a 2015 Alex Award book by John Scalzi.  In about 30 years from now, a deathly epidemic caused by a previously unknown virus has wiped out huge populations worldwide.  Many people fully recovered, but many thousands were left "locked in," their bodies 100% paralyzed but their minds fully aware and functioning.  Technology rapidly developed to free "Hadens" (named after the President, whose wife was locked in) from their frozen bodies by allowing their minds to link to and control artificial bodies (ie, humanoid robots).

What's so freaky about this right now?  Today's Morning Edition has a report on an outbreak in Colombia of Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome, which weakens victims' muscles sometimes to the point of paralysis, and is suspected to be caused by the Zika virus. Creepy when you've just read Scalzi's companion docu-story,  "Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome."

Have you ever read any science fiction that seemed a little too close to near-future reality??  Share the titles in the comments, please.

You can click to the cumulative list of all High School book club choices right here.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Month of Awesome People

It's February, and we showcase African American history this month, even though, as one of my display signs states -- Every Month is African American History Month!  Black lives, and black achievements, matter -- 24/7/365.  But just like it's nice to have a birthday that's your special day, it's nice to have a special month for showcasing the incredible history of US citizens.

This display faces the entry doors of the library (on the wall next to the Learning Specialists' room).  Can you name all 10 of these women from their accomplishments and faces?  If so, come see me -- there's a prize!

Massive thanks to elementary librarian Natalie Bernstein, from whom I nicked both the idea and the list. Check out her bulletin board over in Python Hall.

Don't know them all yet?  Click here for info on all 10!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

#1Lib1Ref, Wikipedia and Me

I love Wikipedia.  For a long time librarians were supposed to ban the online user-edited encyclopedia (maybe we still are), but man, it's just too useful.  What we have to teach our students is that, just as with all tertiary sources, researchers have to move beyond the encyclopedia's text, mine it for clues and get closer to the primary source of the information.  Just as with revenge, Wikipedia is a great place to start, but not a place to stay.

Ok, so I love Wikipedia, and here's an example of why.  At the beginning of this January short term, Catharine came in looking for books of Greek mythology.  Her class was reading Yeats' sonnet "Leda and the Swan," and Catharine wanted to find an "original" version of the myth to add to the discussion.  We headed over to the 200s "religion" area on the shelf and checked book after book in vain. The few that mentioned Leda didn't tell the story at all.  Ovid's two lines also weren't satisfactory.

As so often I do when I need context and clues for a search, I checked into good ol' Wikipedia, which has a substantial article on "Leda and the Swan," but it's all about depictions of the myth in art and poetry.  The article mentions "many versions of the story," but didn't point to any of them. I scanned the whole article, but no luck.  No links, no pointers to any actual sources for the myth. Aargh.

At the end of the second paragraph, though, the sentence "Thanks to the literary renditions of Ovid and Fulgentius it was a well-known myth through the Middle Ages . . ." held the clue I needed!  I did a web search for Fulgentius and Leda, and came up with Fulgentius the Mythographer, a 1971 translation from Latin with citations and commentary, of the five known works of Fulgentius, and on page 78 begins "The Fable of the Swan and Leda."  A couple of screenshots later (we librarians have our ways to get the info to our people), and I get to present Catharine with what she'd come for.  Yippee!!

About a week later, I heard about Wikipedia's 15th Anniversary project #1Lib1Ref, which is asking librarians around the world to add one reference, a citation to a reliable source, that backs up a statement in any Wikipedia article.  Participating was a no-brainer -- I already had the goods! So as of right now, the 3rd footnote in the article (near the end of that second paragraph) is the addition of yours truly.  And a link to another source, attributed to Latin writer Hyginus, in the External Links section.  Cool, huh?

 Are you a Wikipedia fan or a skeptic?   Have you ever edited a Wikipedia article?  What do you think of the #1Lib1Ref project?  Comments welcome!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Awards Time Again (and I Got One Right!):
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

After the National Book Award for young readers shortlist was announced last fall, I had a plan to read all three before the final Winner was announced.  I read Bone Gap, and loved it.  I read Nimona, and liked it a lot.  I've renewed Challenger Deep from the public library 3 times (yep, I often borrow a book from the public library before deciding whether to buy it for Paideia or not. My tax dollars at work!) and am still working my way through it.  It's quite good (I think), but incredibly intense -- while I'm reading it I feel like my head's swimming and kind of lost.  Given that the narrator, 15-year-old Caden Bosch, is awash in the first onset of schizophrenia, that's probably a good and intended thing, but I'm finding it tough going.  I'll let you know when I finish!

In fact, the National Book Award folks decided that Challenger Deep, by established and talented author Neal Shusterman was the best of the crop, and gave it the 2015 Award for Young People's Literature.  On the other hand, on Monday morning Bone Gap, by author Laura Ruby,  was given the 2016 Printz Award (technically, the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, quite a mouthful).  Yay for me!!

Bone Gap is a story of love lost and found, and about the difference between being being visible and being truly seen.   A mysterious young Polish woman suddenly appears in the O'Sullivan brothers' barn one night, bruised and silent.  For a while, Roza lives with them, healing herself and caring for them, as friend and confidant to spacey Finn, and eventually as fiancee to serious, responsible Sean.  And then she disappears, stolen right in front of Finn -- but he can't come up with enough details about the man who took her for anyone to believe him.   The only way to make things right again is for Finn to find Roza himself.

Bone Gap is a fine example of rural magical realism -- characters and situations that are real enough, but that tilt over into the otherworldly before tilting right back into real again.  Corn that murmers secrets and a boy who can hear them.   A barn that produces not only Roza, but later on a magnificent black horse that seems to know things, and can run on and on in the night.  A boy with arms too long, a girl who looks like a bee.   Is it magic or is it allegory?  In the end, the ability to look through the stories everyone knows, to see a person for who and how she truly is and not what she looks like, is what makes relationships real, and rescues joy from its dark captor and brings it back to Bone Gap.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Clean Sweep 2015:
Dorothy Allison at Paideia in October

Gosh, it's just become 2016, and there are a bunch of things I meant to write about way back in 2015 that never made it to the blog. Do you ever get paralyzed by having too much going on in your head at the same time, so nothing ever makes its way out?  Kind of like a logjam in timber territory.

So here we go -- making a clean sweep of 2015, and onward with 2016!


Back in October, acclaimed author Dorothy Allison spent time with classes, and gave two talks in the theater (a morning talk/reading at a student assembly, and an evening reading for the public).   My notes are something like this:
- a compelling speaker,  teenagers actually paid attention for an hour.  Many (including me) were leaning forward to catch every word.
- she definitely goes for shock value; topics & vocabulary not used in public often (even at Paideia!!)
- Allison spoke directly to the students (flattery ;-)
- she's very funny
If Dorothy Allison wrote poetry, she'd be a slam champion!  The roots of her writing are definitely in storytelling and performance, which comes through brilliantly when she's on stage.  I went to elementary and junior high school in northeast Alabama, and felt as though Allison could have been one of the girls I went to school with -- maybe my best friend, maybe an academic competitior, maybe (in honesty) one of the girls the others talked mean about.  Somebody I knew.  Whatever it is, she is able to really connect with her audience. Oh, and she's got a killer smile!

There were significant differences between morning and evening talks:
• in the morning she kept coming back to the idea that "all writing is about revenge"
• in the evening the theme was more about "grace & glory," growth and acceptance

I mention this because it came up later in the week when we met with our advisee groups to discuss Allison's visit.  My tiny group of four 9th graders met with Magnus' larger group for better discussion dynamics.  We started with sharing reactions to the assembly -- the "shock value" was definitely noticed -- and discussed the value of talking about stressful events.  Does writing or talking about such events cause greater stress by re-living it over and over, or does it release stress by processing and controlling it?   A couple of students got stuck on the notions of anger and revenge and had negative reactions to the author, so I was glad I'd attended both and could talk about the wider, gentler themes of the evening talk.

So what did Allison mean by "revenge is a good place to start, but not a place to stay?"  In her introduction to the anniversary edition of her short story collection Trash, Allison writes that sometimes she wrote for revenge, sometimes out of rage, sometimes to refute other authors' stories of ignorant poor Southerners, of stupid, morally deficient white trash -- but also that "I grew up [while] writing these stories. I made peace with my family. I forgave myself and some of the people I had held in such contempt . . . in large part through the writing of these stories."

We talked about writing prompts & catalysts,  then moved to personal writing, writing for an audience.  Teenagers write ALL the time, for all kinds of audiences -- Facebook, Instagram captions, Twitter, lit papers,  test essays.   Do they think of who's likely to be reading their words while they're transmitting what's in their heads into a public statement?  Should they?

We have these Dorothy Allison books (2 novels and the short story collection) in the Paideia Library.

The morning after Dorothy Allison's visit to Paideia, an 11th grader, slightly out of breath, came into the library before school to check out Bastard Out of Carolina.  "Are they all gone?  Is there a copy left?" she asked.   She'd spent 3 hours listening to Allison the day before -- in her lit class where the author spoke just to her class, then in the high school assembly, and then in the junior/senior gathering with the author after the all-school event.  The student was blown away.  Me too.