Sunday, June 28, 2020

Library Loot Reviews: Representation and Collectors

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all of one's library holds will come in at once.  At least this time around it was only two books and both were very quick reads.

For long time readers of this blog, my youngest niece, Lemon Drop, turned 10 this past spring. I'm the Aunt that always gifts her books and she's not as precocious as my oldest niece who told me at 8 years old that she "likes to pick out my own books Aunt Wendy." I happily bought her gift cards, but it ain't the same.  When I asked my sister what Lemon Drop was currently reading, thinking I'd get her "the next book in whatever series about a girl and her dog, horse, unicorn, cat, whatever" I discovered Lemon Drop wanted westerns.  Yes, my heart skipped a beat (this being me after all) but y'all - it's hard to find westerns for grown-ups who love them (um, me) let alone 10-year-old kids.  Luckily one of my librarians swooped in to rescue me with a recommendation of Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park. My sister and niece read it together, loved it, so of course I then wanted to read it.

Park grew up in the Midwest loving the Little House series, to the point of fan-fiction devotion. However she wasn't immune to the problematic elements of the series and she fulfills a lifelong dream of telling the story of a half-Chinese 14-year-old girl who, after the death of her mother in Los Angeles, is uprooted by her white father to resettle in the Dakota territory.  Hanna has dreams of graduating from school and becoming a seamstress in her father's new shop. Along the way she's confronted by ugly realities, the struggle to make friends, and the unpacking of her grief surrounding her beloved mother's death.

While the protagonist is a 14-year-old girl, this is very much written at a middle-grade level. Suitable for my niece who just finished the fourth grade.  However, as much as I hate the term "adult themes" since kids are more observant and smarter than most of us give them credit for - it's the kind of book that I think warrants some unpacking.  Hanna confronts racism, injustice, and there's a moment at the end where she's assaulted (not raped - but hands are laid on her by a drunken ass). My one tangible issue with this story is actually that assault. Park writes about the aftermath of it realistically, and I do think children need to be aware of unfair realities - but it's a difficult lesson with a message that the genre reader in me recoils against.  In other words - talk to your kids y'all.

A quick read for an adult reader, a lovely sense of place, and a beautiful example that representation matters.  And while the themes are mature, the story is neither dark nor grim.  Even if you're not interested - pick it up the next time you're in a library or bookstore to read the author's note at the end.

Final Grade = B+

My Mom told me about Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books by Nina Freudenberger having read about it in the newspaper.  One of the local libraries I have access to had it in eBook, which is not normally how I like to look at what is basically a coffee table book - but what the heck?  I have a tablet.

It's important to know that Fruedenberger is an interior designer, so this book approaches books as functional art, part of the interviewee homes that are used and not mere display pieces.  These aren't mere collectors per se, they're people who use and love their book collections.  While the books are displayed (sometimes haphazardly) they're used, they're thumbed through, in some cases cherished or purged depending on the person who owns them.

Freudenberger definitely chose her subjects among artists and literati - the only "every man" writer to make an appearance being Larry McMurtry (and calling him genre is a stretch IMHO).  But the photographs are lovely, as are some of the sentiments, and it helps solidifies my own relationship with books.  Which is to say the older I get, the more I don't view books as art.  I'm more of a collector of stories. It's just that my preferred method for consuming stories is through the written word. Are there beautiful books? Are there books that are art either by written word or in presentation?  Of course. And while I appreciate those, in the end it's not what draws me.  The story is the thing. That's the art that speaks to me.  Delivered via a beautifully bound first edition or as an eBook file. In the end it's never no mind to me.  Although I will admit to wanting what I call "tangible" copies of my keepers - books that I can pull out, look at, casually flip through.  Yes, I'm a librarian, but that's about as high-falutin' as I get.  The Midwestern lack of pretension runs that freely through my veins.

Take the grade for what's it worth.  It was a nice book to look through but it's a coffee table book and those "are what they are."  Final Grade = C


Keira Soleore said...

Despite the 'C' grade, I am going to have a look at about "Bibliostyle," because I am of course tempted in gawking at other people's homes with books. Luckily, my library has it in stock; unfortunately, they are not allowing us to put holds on books at this moment in time. (Soon, I am assuming.)

Wendy said...

Keira: An impossible book for me to slap a letter grade on - so it got the catch-all "C" - which in this case means I liked looking at it, it was a quick read, but nothing that set my world on fire. The photographs are lovely and for that alone it's worth flipping through. My one solid quibble is that it's a very privileged view on books, readers, and collecting. Lots of nonfiction, art and architecture. I would have loved the author to have interviewed someone with an extensive pulp or genre fiction collection for example.

Hopefully your library will be opening up their print collection soon! We just opened up for holds and curbside service three weeks ago - and that's at about 1/3 of our branches.

Keira Soleore said...

I like to flip through coffee-table books where I don't have to apply my brain too much and can enjoy full-color pictures. I admit to liking to gawk at things that are way beyond my lifestyle. I guess, coffee-table books are expensive so I expect them to be about expensive things. They take me out of my mundane world. All of which is to say that their book selection fits in with the whole "elevated snobbish" vibe.

My library system has a whole has opened up manual book drops, and they are slowly opening up Curbside Hold Pickups. We should be able to start putting books on hold in three weeks, so I can go in and set up all my holds again with the proper due dates.

LibraryJill said...

Someone had recommended Prairie Lotus to me and I just finished it last week. LOVED it--and also am still disturbed by how racist our country was/is. I think Hanna's mother was such a terrific role model for her, but I do wonder, as Hanna did, whom she will find as a life partner.

Wendy said...

Keira: It's a perfect read for that! There's text - but I zipped through it in an hour or so and it's totally worth a look for the photographs.

Jill: I'm hoping she turns it into a series! I wasn't ready to leave Hanna behind when I got to the last past.