Why I Support Libraries

The Columbus Metropolitan Library

The Columbus Metropolitan Library

I don’t usually participate in Top Ten Tuesday, but I enjoy reading other bloggers’ lists. Today’s challenge was to list the ” Ten Authors I Own the Most Books From”. This challenge convinced me to write the blog post I’ve wanted to write for quite some time. This is a post in which I explain why I support libraries.

There are many books in my family’s house, but most of them were bought at library book sales. Others were bought for high school and university (yes, my high school made me buy all of my school books). Many bloggers and booktubers almost exclusively buy books either online or at brick-and-mortar bookstores. There seems to be a general consensus that buying books is better than borrowing books. I, however, am a huge fan of libraries and the services they provide for people who wouldn’t have access to books otherwise.

I own considerably less books than you’d think based on my reading habits. My parents are not readers, but my mother took me and my siblings to the library every summer. During the summer, the library hosted library challenges for all age groups. I loved reading fantasy books and non-fiction books about insects. My mother wanted me to read non-fiction books from time-to-time so that I could learn something about the world. My mother had difficulty convincing me to check out a non-fiction book on something other than insects. I organized what I learned about insects in a personal “science journal” because at the age of 9 or 10 I decided that I would become an entomologist. The “science journal” was my personal project and one that I started thanks to the books I borrowed from my local library. My dream to be an entomologist is still alive and well as I will be attending graduate school in insect toxicology in the fall.

There are so many bloggers and booktubers who rave about bookstores, but there aren’t many who speak out in support of libraries. The services libraries provide for families are indispensable. Libraries made me the avid reader that I am today. Books are expensive, and my mother wasn’t interested in spending 10-20 dollars on a book.

Books will always be sold. It is estimated that over 200,000 books are published each year in the United States alone. But libraries are facing serious cuts; many librarians in my hometown have been laid off. When you support libraries, you support reading. So please consider visiting your local library. I still buy books from time to time, but libraries are a resource that I would like my children to have access to someday.


Review of A Year Down Yonder

A_Year_Down_YonderWhat was it about?

During the 1937 recession, Mary Alice is forced to leave her Chicago family to live with her grandmother in a small, remote Illinois town. Her parents are too poor to sustain their daughter, and her brother is off planting trees for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Luckily, Mary Alice has a place to stay for the year. Grandma Dowdel is not like other grandmothers. She is a large, aggressive woman who pulls out her shotgun at the tip of a hat. A Year Down Yonder describes Mary Alice’s one-year stay in a place so different from her hometown. Over time, she discovers that her grandmother is more than meets the eye.

What did I think of it?

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck is a sequel to A Long Way From Chicago, but I read the sequel first because it won the Newbery Medal in 2001. A Year Down Yonder reads less like a novel and more like a collection of short stories about a trigger-happy grandmother. I appreciated the presence of strong adult characters in this young adult work.  Unlike many protagonists in YA, Mary Alice is not rebellious and does not try to distance herself from the adults. Rather, she works alongside her grandmother, trying hard to understand this woman’s obnoxious personality. Mary Alice discovers that behind the harsh exterior is a woman who has compassion for those living on the margin of society. The narrator (Mary Alice) first discovers this last quality at a gathering at the home of Mrs. Abernathy. Every year on Armistice Day, people from all over town gather at Mrs. Abernathy’s home to shoot paper targets and eat homemade burgoo (a type of stew). Mary Alice is shocked by what she witnesses at her first Armistice Day celebration. Instead of charging ten cents for a cup of soup, Grandma Dowdel stands behind the counter and milks the customers for all they’ve got. Like the narrator, the reader is  horrified by the old woman’s behavior. But at the end of the chapter, Mary Alice learns that the soup was sold to raise money for the care of Mrs. Abernathy’s son, a severely wounded World War I veteran. This touching story was my favorite in  A Year Down Yonder.

Grandma Dowdel’s personality jumps off the page, but the reader doesn’t learn much about Mary Alice. The protagonist doesn’t have much of a personality. Although I appreciated the respect she showed her grandmother, I also found it hard to believe that a teenager could be so obedient. The humor also felt a bit flat in many parts of the book. While I can’t say that I found A Year Down Yonder entertaining, I value the work for its themes. Because my favorite story was near the beginning of the novel, I expected the rest of the book to be equally poignant. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the lack of originality in the other chapters. I cannot tell you if A Year Down Yonder should have won the Newbery Award because I have not read the other children’s books that were published in 2000, but I didn’t feel that the stories were as well-executed as they could have been.

Favorite Quote

[Grandma Dowdel to Mary Alice after she introduces her granddaughter to Mrs. Abernathy’s son]: “The trenches are all filled in, but the boys are still dying.” 

 This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge


Literary Miscellanea: An Interview With Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

Yesterday, I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd more or less in one sitting. Although I unfortunately spoiled myself (accidentally of course) and knew who the murderer was before the end of the story, I still immensely enjoyed this novel. Definitely one of the greatest detective works of all time. I am convinced that Agatha Christie was the Shakespeare of the crime fiction genre. For today’s Literary Flashback, I leave you with a brief 1955 interview with the Queen of Crime. In the interview, Christie discusses her upbringing and approach to writing. Enjoy. 🙂

You can watch the interview on the BBC website.


Review of Moby-Dick

moby-dick-coverI read Moby-Dick for a read-along hosted by Adam @ Roof Beam Reader.

What was it about?

Moby-Dick; or, the White Whale by Herman Melville opens with one of the most famous lines in all of literature: “Call me Ishmael.” The narrator, tired of ordinary life and hungry for adventure, enlists to be a sailor on The Pequod. Although he has been on many sea-adventures, Ishmael is going on a whaling expedition for the very first time. At a seaside inn in Nantucket, he meets and befriends a Polynesian man named Queequeg who later becomes one of the harpooners on the ship. Finally, after convincing the owners of The Pequod that he has the necessary experience to be a sailor on their ship, Ishmael climbs aboard. But what Ishmael does not know at the start of the journey is that he is not about to embark on a normal whaling expedition. While the three mates (Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask) catch multiple sperm whales along the way, Captain Ahab is interested in killing only one whale – an albino named Moby-Dick. Ahab was dismembered by this sperm whale on one of his previous expeditions and is now consumed with a maniacal desire to destroy this elusive but notorious animal. The sailors may be after spermaceti, but Captain Ahab has no other goal than the satisfaction of his Ego. Throughout his journey, Ishmael introduces the reader to Nantucket, 19th century whaling, and the enigmatic and majestic qualities of the sperm whale.

What did I think of it?

Ishmael is a nerd. He is obsessed with learning about whales and the whaling industry, and he can’t wait to tell the reader about what he has learned. The rumors are true. There are hundreds of pages dedicated to cetology (the study of whales and dolphins). But what I bet no one has told you yet is that those are the best chapters in the book. Moby-Dick is more than a novel about a whale hunt. There is not a work that brings together science and philosophy as elegantly and as powerfully as Moby-Dick. The cetology chapters are laden with metaphor. In these chapters, Ishmael has a two-part goal: to give the reader a greater appreciation for whales and to explore the character of Captain Ahab. Ishmael is like a small child in a candy store. He is hungry to know and understand. Ahab is as mysterious as the creature he is hunting, and Ishmael wants to decode them both. The cetology/whaling chapters also appealed to me because I am studying to be an entomologist. It was refreshing to meet a character equally excited to learn about the world. Although the novel sometimes reads like an encyclopedia, the facts about whales are often used as metaphors to explore and critique human behavior.  Here is an example:

“How wonderful is it then – except after explanation – that this great monster [the sperm whale], to whom corporeal warmth is as indispensable as it is to man; how wonderful that he should be found at home, immersed to his lips for life in those Arctic waters! where, when seamen fall overboard, they are sometimes found, months afterwards, perpendicularly frozen into the hearts of fields of ice, as a fly is found glued in amber. […] Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.”

Most of the characters in Moby-Dick are also quite memorable. Starbuck is the greatest sailor in the novel. He is not only ethical and honest, but he also respects life and death. Captain Ahab, on the other hand, is an egotistical person. He doesn’t allow anything or anybody to come between him and his goal. Ahab is willing to sacrifice his wife, child, and ship to prove to himself that he is the most powerful person in the world. But Ishmael does not think Ahab is essentially different from other men. We all, to one degree or another, lust after fame and self-affirmation.

Moby-Dick is not an easy work. There were admittedly a few chapters that I didn’t understand. But throughout the majority of the book, I experienced for the first time a feeling of awe and admiration toward whales. Even today, whales are hardly understood by scientists. Immediately after finishing the novel, I picked up two creative non-fiction works by Nathaniel Philbrick about Nantucket and the history of whaling: Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890 and Into the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. If you are hesitant to dive into Moby-Dick without a prior knowledge of the topics discussed in the book, you might want to check out these non-fiction works. But that is by no means necessary.

Reading Moby-Dick was an extraordinary experience. I had never read such smooth, elegant writing in my entire life. I also enjoyed the humor interspersed throughout the text. In my not so humble opinion, everybody should read Moby-Dick at least once in their life. It is truly epic!

Favorite Quotes

“Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it; and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with the magic.”

[Starbuck to Captain Ahab]: “[L]et Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.”

_ _ _

I wrote three other reflections about Moby-Dick here, here, and here.

Literary Miscellanea: The Pleasure of Writing by A.A. Milne

For this Saturday’s Literary Flashback, I would like to share with you an essay A.A. Milne wrote in 1920 concerning the writing process. In it, he discussed what inspired him to write. What I have gleaned from this essay is that while there are many individuals who were involved in the writing profession and who helped publish Milne’s works, the pleasure Milne got from writing did not have much to do with what others thought of his writing. A brand new nib was all he needed to write. In short, it was the process he enjoyed.

“For it was enough for me this morning just to write; with spring coming in through the open windows and my good Canadian quill in my hand, I could have copied out a directory. That is the real pleasure of writing.”

Here is the essay.


Review of Crispin: The Cross of Lead

What was it about?

At the start of the novel, Crispin, referred to as Asta’s Son, is attending his mother’s funeral. Crispin’s life has hit rock bottom. Although his family had always been burdened by heavy taxation and starvation, Crispin leaves the funeral with the comforting knowledge that John Aycliffe, Lord Furnival’s steward, wants to kill him. Crispin’s mother had always been treated as an outcast on Furnival’s land, but her son had taken this for granted. They were peasants after all. But shortly after the funeral, Crispin overhears a conversation between Aycliffe and one of his servants. Upon seeing the boy, the two men chase the boy with the intention of killing him. Crispin doesn’t know why he is labeled a Wolf’s Head, but now anyone can kill him without risking any retribution. But why would anyone want him dead? He is only a peasant boy. Crispin runs to the local church and asks Father Quinel why he is being pursued. Quinel admits that there is a mystery surrounding his father’s life, and promises to reveal it to Crispin the next day.  All he tells the boy is that his real name is Crispin and that his mother knew how to read. But the next day, Father Quinel is nowhere to be found. Instead, Crispin finds himself running away once again from Aycliffe and his men with only his mother’s lead cross for protection. At a dilapidated cathedral, he becomes the servant to a jester named Bear. Unlike the servitude Crispin is used to, his new master treats the boy more like an assistant than a servant. Bear and Crispin together take the road to the village of Great Wexly, John Aycliffe close at their heels. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi is the story of a 14th century peasant who suddenly and mysteriously becomes the most threatening person in all of England.

What did I think of it?

Crispin: The Cross of Lead is the first book of the Crispin Trilogy, and it was a phenomenal read. Although I knew the mystery all along, the book is intended for middle-grade children. Children at that age are still learning to identify tropes and imagery. For them, the ending of Crispin most likely comes as a surprise. Still, I enjoyed the novel. There have been countless novels set in the Middle Ages. However, so many portray Medieval Europe inaccurately or stereotypically. Crispin: The Cross of Lead does neither. Finally, I have come across a character who finds strength in his faith. Avi doesn’t bore the reader by including pages of facts about the 14th century. Rather, the descriptions of the time period are elegantly weaved into the action of the story. Crispin is one of those works that should be taught in schools. Not only is it fast-paced and action packed with very likeable characters, it has great educational value. The book raises some important questions about power, wealth, and poverty that can serve as talking points for some great class discussions. Crispin: The Cross of Lead definitely deserved the 2002 Newbery Award  for being both enjoyable and educational. I look forward to reading the second and third books in the trilogy, Crispin: At the Edge of the Wood and Crispin: The End of Time.

 This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge

Review of The Call of the Wild

What was it about?

The Call of the Wild by Jack London is told from the perspective of Buck, a St. Bernard Scotch-Collie. He lives a comfortable existence in the household of Judge Miller; the children play with him, and Judge Miller treats Buck like a king. But the gardener, Manuel, is short on money. To feed his family, Manuel kidnaps and sells Buck to two French Canadians bound for Alaska. Yukon, Alaska is nothing like Santa Clara Valley, California, and François and Perrault are nothing like Judge Miller and his family. Buck’s new masters beat their dogs into submission so that they can be effective sled dogs. The dogs steal and fight for dominance, but only one dog can be the alpha.

During the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, countless men left the comfort of their homes to chase after gold in the harsh wilderness of Alaska. The Call of the Wild does much more than recount the hardships sled dogs faced. It explores the fine line that divides the wild from the tame, the savage from the civilized.

What did I think of it?

The Call of the Wild is not just a story about a dog’s transformation. It is also a study of human nature. London uses human characteristics to describe Buck and animal characteristics to describe the men to argue that humans too have an innate desire for superiority and for a life without societal duties and constraints. For both dogs and men, there is a constant competition to be the best, to be the alpha male. The wild/tame theme is even carried into the author’s choice of setting. Alaska itself is where civilization meets the wilderness. Throughout their journey, characters occasionally stop by villages and trading posts before plunging back into the wild.

Jack London pulls no punches. He vividly paints the way individual dogs are treated by their masters and by the other dogs in the pack. This is naturalistic writing at its finest. The Call of the Wild has easily become one of my favorite books of all time.

Favorite Quotes

[Buck steals food for the first time from another dog]: “This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile Northland environment. It marked his adaptability, his capacity to adjust himself to changing conditions, the lack of which would have meant swift and terrible death. It marked, further, the decay or going to pieces of his moral nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence. It was all well enough in the Southland, under the law of love and fellowship, to respect private property and personal feeling; but in the Northland, under the law of club and fang, whoso took such things into account was a fool, and in so far as he observed them he would fail to prosper.”

“Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as [Buck] heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the forest.”