Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plugging in at the Book Fest

I don't know what I'd do if I lived in another town; to me, it's not spring until the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books hits. I have no idea why I love this event so much...the crowds are thick and slow, there is never enough time to get to enough panels, and it's usually hot as hell.

Today was one of the best Book Fest days that I can remember. Great weather, James Ellroy performed some crazy magic trick for my son, and I got to attend thought-provoking panels.

First was the panel, "Rebooting Culture: Narrative and Information in the New Age," moderated by David Ulin, the LAT's book editor, with some serious thinkers in the realm of literature and our fragmented culture. A point of contention was whether computer culture would a) make the idea of intellectual property a relic, b) make us cling to taut, realistic narratives, or c) kill reading altogether. (Nicholas Carr, one of the panelists, wrote the great Atlantic Monthly essay, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"--sadly, I side with Carr.)

The next panel was moderated by my husband, Scott Timberg, and included Aimee Bender, Lev Grossman, and Victor LaValle. It was a pretty serious discussion of genre, realism, and fantasy. Bender is always a great presence at these things -- she can bring up Kafka and the TV show The Bionic Woman in the same sentence and make it all make sense. Grossman was very smart and funny (his book sounds like an adult Harry Potter...with sex). LaValle was so impressive that I had to read a few chapters of his book, Big Machine. Afraid I'm hooked.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The dark and the light

Just began dimming the lights on the Los Angeles Public Libraries on Sundays. Incredibly sad, but a much better alternative than closing ANY branches. See this story by Kevin Roderick in his blog LA Observed

Roderick's been a bit of a library advocate recently. Also liked this commentary on Jaime Escalante and education, though a recent Times story hinted that Escalante's story helped push the drive toward high-stakes testing -- which gave me pause. A great teacher, nonetheless.

On a lighter note, I came across a great article about Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards' love of libraries in the London Times Online. Richards actually wanted to be a librarian -- let's see, rock star, librarian, rock star, librarian...tough choice for many.

An excerpt from the piece, written by John Harlow:

The guitarist started to arrange the volumes, including rare histories of early American rock music and the second world war, by the librarian’s standard Dewey Decimal classification system but gave up on that as “too much hassle.”

For more on Richards on personal and public libraries, click here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The crumbling of public schools

Enormous cuts are beginning to make people take a good hard look at our education system, especially in our divestment from it. Others are shining a light on certain practices that should probably be abandoned (like the seniority system).

Two pieces that came my way today should be read by anyone who cares about education.

The first is an article co-written by a colleague, Tyler Hester--a second-year teacher at Blair IB Magnet in the Pasadena Unified School District who has been pink-slipped (along with all of the district librarians). Check out "Letter from a Laid Off Teacher" here.

Another was a gut-wrenching opinion piece by Derrick Z. Jackson called "The Death of Public Education" that ran in The Boston Globe. Here's an excerpt:

"Beneath the numbers is the resegregation of children on the basis of
class, race and immigration status. Prison spending soared so much,
that by 2007, five states spent as much or more on corrections than on higher education, according to the Pew Center on the States."

It's a fascinating and terrifying look at how the U.S. has given up on public education and on the kids in the system. Read the entire piece here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What happened to the parents?

Really fascinating piece in the New York Times today about parents in YA books -- a historical look at how they've evolved (mostly devolved -- or disappeared). It's called "The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit"; check it out here.

In my YA book group, we started talking about this topic when we were reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. Get the parents out of the way and the kids can be heroic. Then again, many of the YA writers are Gen-Xers -- could this the revenge of the latch-key kids?

After witnessing the impotent father in Twilight, the murder of Bod's parents in Graveyard Book, and the abusive behavior of the harrowing psycho-mom in The Rules of Survival, I was surprised to encounter the flawed but heroic single mom in Rachel Mead's fantastic When You Reach Me.

But let's not talk about what happens to the parents in my new favorite YA book, Jellicoe Road...

(The painting is Mary Cassatt's "Under the Horse Chestnut Tree.")

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Interview with School Library Journal

Well, it's a little strange for someone who used to make a living interviewing people to be the subject of an interview, but here's my Q&A with School Library Journal.

I thought the questions this person asked were just perfect (and I read that magazine all the time, so I was completely shocked and thrilled that they wanted to do something on me--who, me?). And it allowed to get some things that were really bugging me off my chest.

Am still surprised that my op-ed is getting this much traction. As someone who has been saved more than once by a patient librarian, I am worried about the state of the profession (and our information society), so I hope some decision-makers will listen!

Here's an excerpt:

This is the way I see it: most teachers and administrators went to school more than 10 years ago. If you've been in an undergraduate or graduate program recently, you see that everything has changed so drastically in the realm of research and technology that it is a new world, a new universe. Everything is different.
Teachers see how students are manipulating the technology, though, and they're seeing bad information, false information, and an explosion of plagiarism.
They're worried. But they are so busy preparing students for these high-stakes tests that they often struggle to make the time for research projects.