October 1, 2014

The Big Read in Downeast Maine

Readers! Booklovers! Community Members! Folks Who Love Art! You, who are looking for cool, FREE community events! We have some for you!

Travel to Earthsea with fantasy readers from Downeast Maine! Join us for The Big Read, community events built on themes from A Wizard of Earthsea, the fantasy classic by author Ursula Le Guin. In 1968 Ursula Le Guin published A Wizard of Earthsea, creating a fantasy world that rings true with issues meaningful to us today. Topics to explore include the hidden power of a man's name, what it means to be a wizard, and the importance of home.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. Porter Memorial Library is one of 77 not-for-profit organizations to receive a grant to host a Big Read project between September 2014 and June 2015. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with Arts Midwest. 

Want to know a bit about Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea? Here is the link for The Big Read's Reader's Guides, a wikipedia entry, and Ursula Le Guin's website.

The Big Read in Downeast Maine is brought to you by Porter Memorial Library, and the Psychology and Community Studies program at University of Maine at Machias.
Free Community Events include:
  • Discussion groups on A Wizard of Earthsea
  • Fantasy/SciFi Booklovers’ Rumpus
  • Graphic Novel Illustration Workshops
  • Collage & Print Workshops
  • Digital Dragons Workshop
  • Reader’s Theater Performances
  • Wizard Party Masquerade
  • Featuring Fantasy & Scifi on the What's The Fox Say? Children's Radio Show on WUMM
  • Wizard-themed sports: Quidditch at University of Maine at Machias
  • Talk by Author Elizabeth Hand

September 21, 2014

Shepherding Books

The other day I dropped in on the librarian at our local public library. I've been wicked busy, and we have a rapidly approaching Big Read series to pull off. I found her at the bottom of the stairs sitting on a box, surrounded by other boxes stacked against the wall, digging through books. After we talked business, she showed me some of the books and explained that all the boxes were donated from one estate. The owner had passed away and his family donated them. There were books in different languages, books on New Age stuff (... astral projection? Does that count?), photography books, other art books, history books, some random fantasy novels, a bible from the 1800s in German, other books on spirituality and religion, and Tibet seemed to be a theme too. She got off the box she had been sitting on to point out that "books on intimacy" was neatly written on the box. Two thoughts: a) yea to those who so thoughtfully labeled the all the boxes and b) that particular box will make the annual book sale more interesting for people watching.

By the way: The librarian held up a book with a design of a naked woman's torso on the cover and she said, "Orgasmatron? What am I going to do with this?" That book was not in the "books on intimacy" books. For some reason, the twenty books with astral projection in the title all blend into one another. Orgasmatron, which was overlapping with Voltron is my lexical space, stood out. Google tells me that book was: "Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America" by Christopher Turner, which seems to be a biography of Wilhelm Reich, but puts itself forward as a history of "how the sexual revolution came to America." People who reviewed the book on Amazon gave it either fives stars or one. Loved it or hated it. Those who gave it one star generally argue the book egregiously misrepresents the Wilhelm Reich, who is apparently an Austrian Psychoanalyst (who I don't remember reading about in my clinical psychology graduate program) who went off the rails around sex and sexuality and was in some ways respected and in others written off as a crackpot or radical.

Weird, weird Maine connection? Reich died in 1957 and apparently (if Wikipedia is correct on this) is "at rest" on his his estate in dear old Rangeley, Maine. Yes, search for Orgonon. His estate maintains a museum of his work. And it is in Rangeley.

Back to shepherding books. It occurred to me while watching the librarian look through the books that she is performing a solemn duty on behalf of the departed person, or a really depressing one on behalf of the departed person's family who thought, "What the hell are we going to do with all these books?" I helped figure out what to do with my grandparents' book collection when they passed away. It was very interesting go through the books that they acquired over their lives and chose to keep, but despite an inclination toward sentimentality and being quite attached to my grandparents, I realized that my grandfather and I didn't have similar taste in reading material. Military books and westerns are not my thing.

Aren't books cool? They are artifacts and small time machines that take you somewhere while leaving you physically in the present.

I couldn't help wonder about the couple whose book collection we were looking at. What were they like? Then I wondered out loud whether these estate donations were a boon for the library or more of a burden. Getting rid of stuff can be logistically challenging and time consuming. Even if the books are worth money, you need to know where to find buyers, have room to store the books, and staff time to work through the books (unless someone will take the lot). Would these books be saved for the annual fundraiser book sale? Would they be combed through by a buyer who may purchase a few? My dad says there are many collectors of old bibles, and thanks to the internet collectors are easy to find. Would the books be donated elsewhere? Sold in the library fundraiser book sale? Disposed of? Made into a new form of art? Boxes upon boxes of books. Heavy boxes, that take up space?

I think all sorts of appreciative things about libraries, librarians and library staff, but until that conversation and looking over all those books, thinking about the people to whom they belonged,  I hadn't realized what a strangely intimate responsibility librarians have when given an estate's collection of books. These books are the physical accumulation of a person's interests and the worlds they have immersed themselves in. They having writing in the margins and notes and random items pressed between the pages. Some have dedications in the front. And yet, that doesn't mean that loved ones or anyone else will value them as the owners did. Or maybe they will, but valued differently. Your adult grandchildren may end up thinking, "How many freaking novels did Zane Grey write? And why couldn't Granddad have loved scifi instead of western novels?"


This makes me wonder what our son will do with our book collection some day. At this point in our lives, we aren't endlessly moving and switching apartments, so our collection curation has changed in response to a greater capacity for books and no foreseeable need to box them up for moving day. While Potty! and Jamberry are some of our son's current favorites, we harbor fantasies that he might also love our books (which we refer to as his books.) What happens if he grows up and thinks, "Good grief parents! Enough science fiction and fantasy already. And what's with all the books and journals from the Peninsular campaign? Sharpe's this. Sharpe's that. Did you read anything besides Bernard Cornwell?!" Who knows. True Grit may be his gateway Western. He'll end up smitten with Louis L'Amour, and I will be wondering why I didn't hold on to Grandad's western novels. But surely he'll keep all the Terry Pratchett books, right?

xkcd :)

September 16, 2014

The Remedy for Love

When I heard that the Cobscook Community Learning Center (CCLC) in Trescott, ME was inviting Bill Roorbach to speak as fundraiser, I decided to check if he had any forthcoming books. It turns out he has The Remedy for Love coming out Oct 14th this year. Despite having a zillion other books to read and summer rapidly coming to an end, I request an advance review copy of The Remedy for Love and moved it to the top of my "reading right now" pile. If you are as prejudiced as I am about books in the "Romance" section, you too would have been apprehensive since it was listed as Fiction/Romance.  However, one of my summer goals was to read beyond what I would have chosen to pick up. That is how I ended up reading May Sarton's Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing along with Cheyenne and Michael Christie's If I Fall, If I Die with Nikki. And both of those books, though they were very different, were wonderful. I don't particularly know where the publishing world's professional boundaries are for "Romance," but The Remedy for Love did not fall in that box for me. More of an interpersonal psychological thriller - for me. Maybe not for you.
Roorbach Reading from one of his books at the CCLC fundraiser.
I am not a fan of trying rehash a thick summary (or even a thin one), but the gist of The Remedy for Love is that one man's impulse to help out a woman who seems very down on her luck results in them getting trapped together during a fast, heavy snow storm. It is very intense. Roorbach, who I feel like I should be calling Bill since he seems like a really friendly guy, does a wonderful job allowing one very leery and defensive Danielle to slowly accept the apparent do-gooder Eric only to have their potential nascent trust or connection be dashed and the task start again. There is so much interpersonal tension and human neediness in the mix, I couldn't help reading the book with my therapist glasses on thinking "Run away! Run away no! You (at Danielle) limp that way! And you, Eric, [as I point 180 degrees away from Danielle's trajectory] go that way." But they are snowed in far from roads. It is very cold. And they don't have good gear with them.

I really enjoyed the book. It was very effective. It's not a romance, yo. It's a people collision. Sometimes there are train wrecks, but that just makes us more fascinated. This story is something I don't mind ease dropping on or spectating, but these people in that situation would be something I would worked to avoid in real life. Even though many of us either have been in an equally as whacked relationship or have a first degree relative or friend who ends up in these sorts of situations.

I passed the advanced review copy to Nikki, who is one of my co-reviewers and last chose If I Fall, If I Die. She read Remedy For Love fast and said she really loved the book. She said, "It is so Maine." I figured she should know. I think she is from Skowhegan, but I am not sure about her family or how far back. Go by that rule and 95% of people residing in New England aren't really from New England anymore. Anyways, the "so Maine" comment made me wonder what about the book, characters and setting was so Maine. [We have Hannafords in Vermont too. And snow. And lawyers, cabins, and rivers.] At Bill's talk (I'm officially switching to Bill now) someone asked about capturing the Maineliness of Maine. His response was something like, "all places have their mystique, their history made into a well-worn narrative, but they are all myths." Except Columbus, Ohio. Which I don't really understand.

Columbus, OH
Monson, Maine

Newfane, VT (for fun - Archer Mayor and John Irving country both Brattleboro and Putney adjacent.)

Courtesy of Bill's talk, I have to hunt down Life Among Giants and read it because A) I enjoyed Remedy for Love, and B) after I heard Bill talk about how that book came into being and the process of working with the TV folks to write adaption for pilot show, I'm even more interested. His talk was DVD extras for the book.

Cool Things Bill Said At His Talk (at CCLC)

When talking about the getting involved in the process of writing the adaption for a TV show, his agent told him to watch a bunch of shows. He first said, "What like Archie Bunker?" He followed up with having seen Breaking Bad and wondering how the writers could get us to root for such an awful man. He said he got it, "This is where the masses are getting their narrative. It's the great Russian novel!" Apparently the TV folks have helped him think about narrative from a different angle. Make me wonder if I should go give Anna Karenina another go and see what Breaking Bad is all about. 

Dear Students

Important things Bill Roorbach said at CCLC that I would like you to consider:  

1) "All the best stuff happens when rewriting."[Good grief might things have been different if someone convinced me of this in 5th grade or at least in early high school.]

2) "The secret is a great secret. It's scheduling."I believe this was his response to an audience question about work/life balance and getting writing done. I just gave the How-to-Use-a-Planner talk to someone the other day. The secret is simple and not really a secret at all. It just takes some commitment following through and being realistic.

3) On receiving feedback or suggestions: "I used to fight it. Now I try it, and if doesn't work, I'll fight it." Don't fight the ink.

4) "Writing is the slowest form of reading..." I think I put this here for me. I don't remember pitching this one to students. I don't think I'd ever thought of writing this way before I heard Bill say it. I love reading. I hate writing. The thing which I do not enjoy is actually the slowest form of something I love to do. Huh. Generally, I'm still working on convincing students who haven't figured it out that reading is awesome to see that it is awesome, even if it's sometimes a full-contact sport - like trying to wrestle some sense out of Durkheim. [Welter, welter. SOC 114 students.]

5) The Watching Time: Bill talked about being a certain age where apparently you wake up in the middle of the night thinking of stuff and can't fall back to sleep. I didn't think of that as age related. I thought of it as "I-have-too-much-crap-to-do" related. A friend of his reframed this nightly waking for him, explaining that in her culture the watching time was a period for reflection and something not associated with anxiety, distress, or ruining your sleep. He figured out how to get himself to use that time to consider (or hang out with? or watch?) his characters in creative, unstructured way. Now that time is more enjoyable than a cycling through of the anxiety list.

Thank you CCLC for inviting Bill Roorbach up to Washington County for a talk. And thank you Bill Roorbach for coming on up (or over.)

Bill has a writing and other things blog along with Dave Gessner: Bill & Dave's Cocktail Hour

What This Winter Will Bring:

Farmer's Almanac Predicts Another Severe Winter for the Northeast Note: Northeast, not New England. Sounds like the east coast city corridor, Washington to Boston, could get buried this winter. I'm tempting fate, right? Can please pass on the ice storms this year? Anyways, good time to be reading a book about people getting snowed in a record storm. It may make you consider what you would you like to have inside in the event of snow-in.

Also a big thank you to Algonquin Books for providing Porter Memorial Library
 with a copy of Life Among Giants to give away prior to Bill Roorbach's talk at CCLC. 
The winner was Tessa Mellas who is someone students in the 
English, Creative Writing, & Book Arts will get to know well.