Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer time in the library

Sometimes I just have to put on my shoes, throw a few things in the car, and drive to my school library to work a while. Something there is about a silent library in the summer when no one else is around.

What's a school library without children in it? A really quiet place! I can get probably three times as much work done in one hour when the building is deserted as when children are bop-bopping through.  When I say the building is deserted, I mean really really quiet. No one is there at all! My principal allowed me a key so I could come in the afternoons. That's when I dive into work. Know the phrase: "In another world?" That's how I feel.

But, ah, the incredible number of books I can process and automate! It's truly phenomenal! This summer I completely rejuvenated the Louisiana Collection (eighth grade must study Louisiana history) by weeding, repairing, cleaning, and adding new books. It is now neat and organized and ready for eighth grade assignments.

I found several books that I want to review and Louisiana writers that I want to celebrate. Until next time, I remain--a quiet librarian!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What? Not read a book?

What? Is it possible? Never read a book? Read, present tense, definition:  "to read or peruse written or printed matter." But what does that mean? Perhaps an answer becomes clear when we look at etymology (word source and origin).
"Origin: before 900; Middle English reden, Old English rǣdan  to counsel, read; cognate with Dutch raden, German raten, Old Norse rātha;  akin to Sanskrit rādhnoti  (he) achieves." (source:
What's most interesting to this librarian is the Sanskrit: "achieves." What does it mean to "peruse written or printed matter"? If one knows all the skills and applies them to a process of deciphering (basically, reading is deciphering), then meaning occurs. Thus: achievement.
What's the point of finding meaning? I don't know about you, but I would not find life worthwhile if I didn't learn something new, then apply or find meaning, using knowledge gained during that skill-using, deciphering that printed matter, and achieving a new level of existence.
What brought on all this musing are two separate conversations. A week ago a friend from the past called and left two frantic messages on my answering machine. "May I use you as a reference? I have to submit my application right away!" It was hours later when I returned home and this frantic call. I called immediately. My friend from the past was seeking a teaching position in the same school where I taught so long.
During the course of our conversation, I told him about my new personal reading project: Faulkner's novels from beginning to end to look for growth and change. He was so pleased as he, too, is a Faulkner fan. Then he told me his shock: He could not believe that teachers don't read, including English teachers. (He is also an English teacher, as was I.) That's right, I agreed. They don't. There is always some excuse: too many papers to grade, children to raise, husbands, church work, one thing and then another. I told him during all those years of my own lesson plans and paper grading that I always found time to read both for personal relaxation and professional growth. I didn't have to ask--I knew he is also a reader. That teachers, as a whole and generically speaking, don't read is, indeed, shocking. (I'm sorry to reveal this about my profession.)
The other day I connected through Facebook with another friend from the past, a local, public official. He called and we chatted awhile. I asked if he read (remembering my other friend's shock). He said he never reads, other than professionally--reports and such. He named his high school and said students were never required to read a book. I told him if he didn't read, his brain would dry up. He said, exactly. He knew his brain was "dried up" and laughed at himself.
So, it seems to me that, as a librarian, I should do something to keep students interested in reading. Nearly all children love books, their pictures, the pages, turning pages, holding the book. Books are treasures to them and I'm the book goddess. As they reach middle school age, first boys, then girls start dropping books and the reading process. I recommend books, keep displays out that highlight both popular books (Wimpy Kid, Underpants Boy), and lists of books. By 8th grade there are those who are done with books and I cannot convince them otherwise.

Writing this blog has determined my goal for next school year: Keeping books alive, keeping reading alive, keeping that perusal of printed matter going, and keeping brain achievement alive for the rest of their lives. 

Reading as personal pleasure. Reading to develop professionally. Reading for the joy it brings. Reading for a glimpse of human truths, both beautiful and ugly, considering their truths in order to make a difference in the world. In my personal setting (Catholic school), reading to enhance spiritual growth.

Reading is a wonder. I want to be part of a child's discovery and maintenance of this wonder. I'm looking forward to a good year!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Addendum: Those bad roots!

At the end of my last post, I described this root system that destroys plants. It seems to exist independently of actual plants that are attached to roots and is simply an entity of its own--just roots. It is very pervasive, determined, and very destructive.

Here's what it does:
1. Wraps its roots around the root system of another plant.
2. Exudes this product that looks like tiny styrofoam balls found in some potting soils.
3. Totally takes over like in the corporate world.
4. Poisons big chunks of the soil, making it resemble sawdust.
5. Has a root system that grows acros the top couple of inches of soil.
Here's what it looks like (my photos are not very clear)
See the little clumps at the ends of the little tendrils (although that word is too sweet for this hateful root!).
Here is an example of the top couple of inches being turned over, showing how the soil has merged into this amorphous blob.

 This is, believe it or not, a lantana. It's just short and squatty. Normally, lantanas grow prolifically and bloom all summer in those tiny trumpet flowers grouped together to form a cluster. Not this one. This is its third year and never does it bloom. Why? That nasty root system keeps wrapping around the lantana's roots. Now that I've removed them, it will try, but will show flower buds that won't bloom!

I've tried to tell a story here: one of vicious, pernicious behavior, one of destruction and murder. I've tried to build empathy for the plants in its path and a vivid picture of the root's own suffocating path, but at long last--and probably only temporarily, I have uprooted (at least in places!) and removed this fiend!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why do I need to work all time?

Summer, ah, summer, that time of rest and relaxation, renewal, refreshment--OK, well, maybe for other people. I seem to have lost the ability to relax and renew. I am stuck in the workaholic mode.

I spent a total of 40 years as a teacher or librarian and lots and lots of school children. Ah, I remember--in my youth--hearing that such and such had taught for 40 years before retiring. I thought--again, at the time--that anyone who spent that long teaching, that, well, something was wrong with them. I mean, come on, 40 years?!!

Now that I am now that teacher, I just want to know where the years went. Where? And why didn't I do something else. Was it destiny? Lethargy? Fear of the unknown? Love of the job? I don't know. I did look and found a couple of things, but at the last moment, returned to the classroom. Once I was offered a job as a flight attendant with a major airline and turned it down at the last minute and returned to the lesser paying job of English teacher. Another time I could have taken a pay cut as a publicist for a national motel chain. Chickened out on that one. Lesser pay? You've got to be kidding!

In August I will return for my 41st year as a teacher, this time my seventh year as a librarian. For the first time ever, I kind of look forward to it. Maybe cooler weather will return.

But to the point at hand: This is the sixth week of summer and I have spent the entire time painting my house. I've owned it (with the bank) for nearly seven years and this is its first new coat of paint. Actually, my house has vinyl siding. I know it is silly and anti-productive to paint vinyl siding, but I tell you the siding is pale yellow, maybe you will understand. Frankly, I don't like yellow, especially pale yellow. Additionally, it is paired with chocolate. Yep, my house was pale yellow and chocolate, the color combination I most dislike in  house color. Plus, dark green doors and grill work in front and peach shutters (my doing). Ug, I am so tired at looking at those colors and --

Since I plan to live here until the end, I want to live in a house with pleasing colors (to my eyes), even on vinyl. Sooooo, I picked a nice lavender for the siding, a deep grayish purple for the gutters, and a pleasant, cool, low-key chartreuse for the door and shutters. I love how everything looks now! Here are some before and after shots:


Not only have I been painting, but I am digging out this horrid root system in ALL my flower beds and vegetable garden. The thing has these hairy roots with little balls which wrap around any other "invading" root system (you know, flowers, vegetables, even new trees) and tries to suffocate it by poisoning the soil. This root system sucks out all the nutrients in the soil, hoping to kill the invader. Any flower, if it doesn't die, just sits there and does not grow. It just exists. Weird--

Thursday, July 7, 2011

An affair of the heart and mind--

I have so many books in my house--more books than any one else I know. I mean, I have a huge personal library with bookcases in every room. Take that literally! Actually, multiple bookcases in most rooms.

OK, what's my point? I picked up a book the other day and sat down with it. I haven't looked at this book in several years. It's  William Faulkner: The Cofield Collection. After reading the caption(s) on each page and studying every picture over a couple of days, I wrote a review on Amazon, which follows:

"I bought "William Faulkner: The Cofield Collection" in that little bookstore in the town square in Oxford, Mississippi some 20 years ago. It's been one of my treasures, a book that I've looked through time and time again and used to show photographs of Faulkner to my high school English classes when we read something by him. In re-organizing my house this summer, I found this treasure and finally sat down and read the captions and studied the photographs page by page as they reflect his life year by year. What I wish is that every devotee of Faulkner had a copy of their own. It has certainly revived my interest in Faulkner's fiction yet again.
What does a writer look like? Where does he come from? What are his influences? What was Faulkner the man like? His interests? His loves? What made Faulkner, well, Faulkner? Cofield, another Oxford resident, actually touches on the answers through this pictorial essay, but note: There is not one whit of gossipy information.
Starting with the preface by the one responsible for this particular photographic volume (there are other volumes) and ending with a wonderful, full-page, half-smile close-up of Faulkner, a succinct but revealing eulogy, and a genealogy chart, this book swept me through Faulkner's life, almost as if I was there.
Quick now: What did you learn about Faulkner by studying the photographs and reading each accompanying brief caption? In no particular order:

1. Faulkner was a horseman. Jack Cofield, fourth-generation photographer and curator of this book, states that Faulkner would have been a fine veterinarian.
2. Faulkner was a very private man (I knew that but not the extent). Example: He would not have gone to Sweden to accept his Nobel Prize. His wife Estelle convinced him to take their college-age daughter Jill and make it an European tour. He agreed to that. There's a photo of him as he works on his acceptance speech during the flight over.
3. He and his animal groomer had a mutual admiration and respect for each other. In fact, Andrew had his own horse for his own personal use. Faulkner had many spills during his riding days. The last one led indirectly to his death when he was 65 years old.
4. Faulkner considered himself a moderate in race relations. It annoyed him to no end to be called a racist.
5. Although I loved all the photographs, one really stood out: that of the swollen river most likely the river in "As I Lay Dying." The very idea of Anse trying to cross that river was sheer madness. But no, he really had his own hidden agenda and it was not to fulfill his dead wife's last vengeful request.
6. The photos of Faulkner and Estelle have always bothered me. Their poses show them as having a restrained relationship, but now I see them as witness to his demand for privacy. She does give him a goodbye hug before he and Jill leave for Sweden.
7. The family asked for privacy--and got it--for his funeral.

Taking this photographic journey through a favorite writer's life was a pleasure. I have stood in that town square, walked the path up to Rowan Oak, oogled the wall where he wrote notes for the time line in one of his novels, viewed his old shoes under his bed. The photos in the book reflect those images. One cannot always stand in a special place, taking in surroundings, wondering this, that, and the other. However, a book of photographs is the next best thing to being there.
"The Cofield Collection" is a true treasure that I can re-visit any time I want."

That ends the review. But more happened. I kept thinking about Faulkner and felt a strong desire to dig out all my Faulkner books and read the ones I haven't read and reread the ones I have. So now I'm beginning my own Faulkner marathon, beginning with his third book, "Sartoris," or the book which piqued his own interest in serious writing. He loved how his characters stood up on their own legs and looked around (that's a paraphrase). He had created a livng being he could control. How he controlled them and what they had to say and do and live and act are things he loved.

When someone (ignorantly--my own word) accuses Faulkner of racism, I know that person has not carefully read Faulkner's works, if at all. In "Sartoris" he infuses his black characteris with humanity and realness.

I will say more after I finish reading "Sartoris." The point I want to make in this blog is how careful a reader should be.

I also want to say that maybe, in your senior years, you might want to fall in love with a favorite writer of your youth all over again. I know I have---

A favorite souvenir

A favorite souvenir
These are my two girls from Ireland!

Judy's shared items

Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)

  • *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
  • How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
  • The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
  • In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  • *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
  • The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
  • Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
  • Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
  • Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
  • Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
  • *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
  • *Ruined by Paula Morris
  • Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
  • Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  • Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
  • *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
  • Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
  • *The Giver by Lois Lowery
  • *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski

School Library Journal - NeverEndingSearch


A semester course in one book about the Soviet Union. Click on image for my review.