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review 2018-03-26 16:59
Dear Fahrenheit 451 / Annie Spence
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks - Annie Spence

A Gen-X librarian's snarky, laugh-out-loud funny, deeply moving collection of love letters and break-up notes to the books in her life.

Librarians spend their lives weeding--not weeds but books! Books that have reached the end of their shelf life, both literally and figuratively. They remove the books that patrons no longer check out. And they put back the books they treasure. Annie Spence, who has a decade of experience as a Midwestern librarian, does this not only at her Michigan library but also at home, for her neighbors, at cocktail parties—everywhere. In Dear Fahrenheit 451, she addresses those books directly. We read her love letters to The Goldfinch and Matilda, as well as her snarky break-ups with Fifty Shades of Grey and Dear John. Her notes to The Virgin Suicides and The Time Traveler’s Wife feel like classics, sure to strike a powerful chord with readers. Through the lens of the books in her life, Annie comments on everything from women’s psychology to gay culture to health to poverty to childhood aspirations.

 

I read this book to fill a Book Riot Reader Harder challenge (a book of essays). I can’t help but feel that I *should* have liked this book much more than I did. I suspect it’s not the author, it’s me. I’m a bit too old to appreciate the author's sense of humour fully, being on the cusp between the Baby Boomers and Gen-X. Still, her essays are letters written to books found while weeding the library and that should be right up my alley.

I did like the book. Three stars is not a bad rating in my opinion. I think the author would be fun to have a drink with and discuss all the weird things that one finds in the library stacks. I’m always amazed, as a library cataloguer, what our librarians choose to add to the collection and what I find while I’m looking for something else.

I was heartened that I had read or at least heard of many of the books mentioned (and some still lurk in my TBR pile).

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review 2018-03-12 14:27
The Librarian of Auschwitz / Antonio Iturbe
The Librarian of Auschwitz - Antonio G. Iturbe,Lilit Zekulin Thwaites

Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust.
Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.

 

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but I must admit that I was hoping for more. The story itself is fascinating and that’s what kept me reading. The writing was pedestrian, which was a disappointment. Still, I would recommend the book to those looking for an inspirational story concerning Auschwitz.

The narrative closely follows Dita Kraus, a 14 year old girl in the Auschwitz family camp and her experiences as the keeper and protector of eight forbidden books. I was interested that one of them was a history text by H.G. Wells, as I have been cataloguing a large collection of Wells’ writing during my work hours. I was also glad to see that they had several people that they designated as “living books” because they could tell certain stories (one woman could recount The Count of Monte Cristo). The concept of living books has recently been used at our city’s public library, so I was thrilled to see an example of the history of the practice.

If this time period and setting are interests of yours, I would recommend this book.

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review 2017-11-29 16:17
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu / Joshua Hammer
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts - Joshua Hammer

To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

 

I was fascinated by this account of the libraries/archives of irreplaceable old manuscripts in Arabic and other languages of North Africa and the Middle East. The first chapters introduce us to the main players in the manuscript biz, as they try to find & trade for these delicate, rare documents and set up local archives to store them.

I think many people forget how sophisticated the Arab world was, back when Europe was languishing in the Dark Ages. They were responsible for maintaining scientific knowledge, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy, while Europeans were being held back by a repressive Church. The Renaissance began when Europeans re-discovered the books that had been preserved by the Arabs.

I don’t know about you, but I remember being taught the history of civilization in grade school. I think it must have been about Grade 5 or 6 that we learned about Mesopotamia being the Cradle of Civilization and being part of the Fertile Crescent. And still, Western governments & researchers seem to be surprised to discover that non-European people had complex civilizations complete with books & universities. I was glad to see the people of North Africa hanging on to their patrimony and keeping these manuscript collections in their own countries, as they have the expertise to read and interpret them. Too often this kind of collection gets whisked off to some Western repository where it attracts limited interest and travel costs prevent African scholars from accessing them.

Reading about the history & variety of extremists in the area certainly gives one pause. So many of the names of the major players were familiar to anyone who follows the news, especially the kidnap victims. I was interested to fill in the details on why these events happened and what else was going on behind the scenes. I still don’t really comprehend the level of hostility of groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban to art, culture, and literature, but I understand that they have a potentially mistaken idea of what early Islam was like (just as many fundamentalist Christians seem to have a skewed view of what early Christians were like). It seems like most fundamentalists have the same view of the world, i.e. that it is just a temporary waiting room before the real deal, the hereafter. What a limiting way to look at the world!

As a library worker who has dabbled in archival and museum collection description, I have to say that I was sincerely jealous of the people who got to work with the marvelous collections described in this volume. I would give my eye teeth to be involved in the cataloguing & digitization of such a significant resource!

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review 2017-08-31 19:11
The Clockwork Scarab / Colleen Gleason
The Clockwork Scarab - Colleen Gleason

Something a little different for my real-life book club—a steampunk novel.  A perfect, light little book for reading during the heat of August, when who really wants to exert themselves too much?

 

It’s a young adult novel, but it’s charm is dependent on the reader having some familiarity with Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker.  The stars of this show are Mina Holmes (Sherlock’s niece) and Evalina Stoker (Bram’s much younger sister).  Each of them are talented in their own rights, Mina as a thinker and reasoner like her uncle, Evalina as a vampire hunter.  Brains and brawn, in other words.

 

When the two young women are forced to work together, their innate independence stands in their way to begin with.  But resistance is futile, and they find themselves relying on each other more & more.  Of course, there are love interests introduced for each one—a law man and a rapscallion, just to emphasize their tempermental differences!  Since neither woman expected to find a suitable romance, they are surprised & confused by this state of affairs.

 

While this book will never achieve the durability or popularity of the original Conan Doyle or Stoker creations, it is cute and fun, and I will probably read at least one more book in the series.

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review 2017-08-28 22:02
Ash and Quill / Rachel Caine
Ash and Quill - Rachel Caine

Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealously guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny…

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library…

 

 

Rachel Caine has certainly got my number with this series.  Book three is right up there with book one, making me long for the next book.  The Library of Alexandria is still dark, controlling, and overbearing.  Our cast of characters is still fleeing their clutches, but wishing that they could change the Library, take it back to what it was supposed to be—a beacon for humanity.

 

Jess Brightwell comes into his own in this installment.  Dario pushes him to think about what he wants to change and to be realistic about what will happen.  It seems to open a whole new Jess, one who can be as Machiavellian as his father, as devious as those in charge of the Library, as ruthless as the Iron Tower.

 

Trapped in a city of Book Burners, our fearless band of library scholars must somehow survive and outwit those who run this blockaded city of Philadelphia.  Never has there been less brotherly love in that city.

 

And that ending!!!  Ms. Caine, you have guaranteed that I will be impatiently awaiting Book 4.

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