Meditative Librarian

pile of books

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I saw a job listing for a meditative librarian. But on second read it was metadata librarian.

Nonetheless, now that the position of meditative librarian has been created, even if only in my own mind, I aim to fill it. I will be your meditative librarian. Let’s begin.

Find a comfortable position, in a meditation hammock perhaps.

Feel the weight of the book in your hands. Allow the pages to open naturally.

Breathe in the new book or old book smell.

Feel the weight of the words in your soul.

If reading leads to thoughts, no matter. Let those thoughts occur naturally with no resistance. When you notice them, simply turn your attention back to your reading.

Feelings may arise. Allow them to be.

Let yourself sink into the words on the page. Feel the connection to the world created therein. Hold the characters in your mind. May they be happy. May they be healthy. May they overcome the story’s conflicts.

You are as one with the other readers who have inhabited this same world. All are interconnected.

Allow yourself to continue to read, not trying to control or direct your emotional responses.

Breathe in, rising action. Breathe out, denouement.

When you are ready, end the reading meditation gradually. Close the covers slowly. Take a few cleansing breaths. Stretch and allow your gaze once again to take in your surroundings.

Remember that a regular reading practice contributes to health and well-being. Set aside a time every day if possible.

A Safe Place You Can Take With You

I recently re-read Neil Gaiman’s book, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” It’s a quick and thrilling read. The narrator, an unnamed man now in his forties, comes home for a funeral and revisits the family who lived down at the end of the lane from his childhood home. While there, he recalls events from the year he was seven. The happenings included encounters with powerful and sometimes terrifying creatures.

Avid readers will identify with the protagonist when he says, “I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible.”

Without giving too many spoilers, I’ll stick with saying his situation gets to the point where even his home and family aren’t safe for him. But he still has his books. He reads about Narnia. He reads his mother’s old books about teenage girl heroines who save their country in World War II. He takes refuge with Dick Whittington and his cat. Here’s the really brilliant part. When he’s in danger and can’t get to a book, he keeps himself together by thinking about books he’s read. They’re still with him in his head. It’s even what he says. The safe place is in his head; books get him there.

This struck me because there have been a number of times in my life where no place felt secure, or when I was in a fraught situation where I couldn’t physically leave. But I could read. Whether I was visiting with literary characters who were experiencing the same things I was and thus made me feel less alone, or going on an incredible adventure completely removed from my corporeal life, I could take mental flight through books. Like the boy in Gaiman’s book, I discovered I could create a safe space in my head. I can carry my safe space with me. It’s a pretty good coping strategy. Honestly, I don’t know how non-readers survive.

Happy International Peace Day

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Happy International Peace Day!

What are your favorite books about peace?  Here are a few of mine:

“The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf. This story of the bull who refused to fight remains one of my best-loved children’s books. I love how Ferdinand has nothing to prove and only wants to be himself, sitting peacefully among the flowers.

“The War Prayer” by Mark Twain. Think about what you’re praying for when you pray for victory in war. Really think about it.

“Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut. For all of it SciFiNess, this gives a very realistic look at how unromantic and ridiculous war is.

“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Yep, I consider this kids’ tale to be a book about peace. There’s nothing about resisting organized battles, but there’s lots about people from different backgrounds coming together and discovering the dual powers of love and responsibility to improve their lives.

Characters Who Don’t Look Like Me

In case you missed it, NPR recently conducted a reader survey about the best young adult novels of all time. After the votes were tabulated, they published a list of the top 100. Now, they’re discussing why they ended up with what may also be the “whitest ever” list of teen books. I hate to admit, this never occurred to me as I voted nor as I eagerly scanned the final list.

I will mention, in the second article they miss two main characters who are not white in the books. Katniss Everdeen of “Hunger Games” is described as having olive skin and black hair. And Ged (aka Sparrowhawk) of the “Earthsea” trilogy, also has dark skin and hair.

Still, the representation is pretty slim. And this set me to thinking about my own writing. I’m white and I tend to write main characters who look like me. I can think of only one exception. Of course, I haven’t written prolific amounts of fiction (yet.) Part of this is that I’m not sure I would be able accurately to “get” the experiences of people who haven’t lived as a white person in the U.S. I do have some characters who are other races, however. So is this diversity on my part, or tokenism? And how can I tell the difference? I struggle with this question. The few stories I have written take place in my country and I want the population to look realistic, including the variety of people you’d meet.

Ursula K.  Le Guin, I’ve noticed, is a white author who often has characters with darker skin (I’ve already mentioned Ged.) And she manages to pull it off. But then again, she’s writing science fiction, so her characters’ cultures are of her own invention. For the most part, I think it’s important to make a place for a diversity of authors if we want a diversity of characters.

I work in a public library, and I try to be aware of the entire population we serve – baby to elderly, different cultures, different genders, different sexual orientations, different abilities. One small example is the New Biography section. In our “New Books” area, we try to put as many books as possible face out, so patrons can see the cover. We have hangers for a few face-out books on each end of the shelving unit, and sometimes we can fit a few face out on the shelves, as well. I can’t help noticing that most biographies – still, here in the 21st century – are about white men. Really, a large, large percentage of the new biographies we have. I don’t want to short-change anyone, including white men, but I think having a variety of faces show up on our shelves is one small way to make sure different groups of people feel comfortable and welcome using the library. We’re always pushed for time and it’s easy, hurriedly grabbing a handful of new biographies for display, to end up with a wall of white and male. When I see this happen, I try to take a minute to find at least a couple that are female and have other skin tones. I know many of my co-workers do, too.

Now, I’m going to feel compelled to go back through my own book lists I’ve published here and see if I’ve been as inclusive as I could be.

 

Do You Have Something to Read?

“Oh no. I forgot my book!” That was me, in the salon where I had taken my son for a haircut. Imagine it said in a tone of real panic, because it was. I was reduced to reading a fashion magazine while I waited. Not reading didn’t seem like an option. There was printed matter in front of me, after all, even if it wasn’t my first choice of material.

“Do you have something to read?” This is me any time I’m taking a road trip with my kids.I ask this the way other moms ask “Did you pack your toothbrush?”  I try to remind them, as well, if we’re going some place with a waiting room – doctor, dentist, etc. “Bring a book; we might have to wait.” My kids and I have serious discussions about what they’re going to read next when one of them has just finished a book. These are the among the most joyous conversations of my life.

I found the greatest purse at a yard sale. It’s big enough to fit my wallet and a book. I try to keep a book with me most of the time. I know people who claim they don’t have time to read. But I’ve finished many a chapter while sitting outside a school, waiting for a kid to come out the door. Also, I read while I eat breakfast. And on my break at work. I’ve even been seen cooking dinner with a spatula in one hand and a book in the other. I don’t burn too many things. Thank goodness I’ve never caught a book on fire. Yet.

Book List: Mothers in Fiction and Memoir

For Mother’s Day, a list of some books featuring moms:

American Mom by Mary Kay Blakely. The former Ms. Magazine editor’s memoir of raising her two boys. It’s insightful, touching and real. I once heard Blakely tell a funny story about this book’s title. She said she wanted to call it “Raising Terrorists,” but bowed to her publisher’s wishes and called it “American Mom” instead. One day, running late to a book signing, she was pulled over for speeding, and had to explain to the police officer how she was on her way to sign copies of her book American Mom. At that moment, she said, she realized how smart it was to listen to your publisher.

Beloved by Toni Morrison. In this post-Civil War novel, a lost soul reappears. Sethe, a former slave, is consumed with mourning for the young daughter who died years earlier. One day, the daughter’s spirit arrives on Sethe’s doorstep in the form of a young woman. Through her we see the ghosts of slavery are not easily banished.

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. How do you report spousal abuse when the spouse who beats you is a police officer? You don’t. You pack up your son and sneak away with him, doing your best to build new identities and become untrackable. I think this novel has one of the best endings I’ve ever read. Not tidy, though.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. The mother in this novel, Enid Lambert, comes to a realization: “What you discovered about yourself in raising children wasn’t always agreeable or attractive.” Still, Enid dreams of one last family Christmas with their three grown children before the health of her husband, Alfred, declines too much. Their kids’ lives are falling apart in different ways, and Enid’s campaign to bring them together reveals the weaknesses and the strengths of their family ties. There are power struggles galore but also acts of incredible love and self-sacrifice, which gives them a lot in common with many real-life families.

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard. Why did I read this novel when my children were young? Do not read this if you have young children. Read this if your children are big or you have no children. A very busy mom loses one of her three kids. Poof – he vanishes. It’s a good book, a compelling read. Disturbing if your kids are near the age of the one who disappears.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler. This was the first Anne Tyler novel I ever read. What I love about Tyler’s characters is how close they come to self-awareness without ever quite arriving. Pearl raises three children on her own after her husband leaves, a piece of trivia she neglects to mention to the children. He is traveling salesman, and the youngsters go on for a while thinking he’s simply away on business. The three kids grow up with a fair amount of sibling rivalry and do their best to create the next generation of family messiness.

I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots by Susan Strait. Upon her mother’s death in 1959, teenager Marietta Cook – tall and strong and blue black – leaves her home in Pine Garden, South Carolina, a place forgotten by time. She heads to Charleston to seek her future. The novel follows her life through the birth and raising of twin boys, right into grandmotherhood.

Juno’s Daughters by Lise Saffron. A mom and her two daughters who live on an island in Washington state find a summer of interaction with Shakespearean actors transformative.

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson. There was more to Shirley Jackson than making us confront our worst natures. This memoir of life with her children and husband is laugh out loud funny. It is several decades old, however, so be prepared to cringe over all of the smoking and the lack of seatbelts.

Mother on Fire by Sandra Tsing Loh. This memoir will resonate with any mother who has found herself drowning in navigating the waters of kindergarten enrollment. Though it’s not quite so treacherous where I live. You will laugh as you recognize yourself and other parents in the anecdotes she recounts.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. Lamott’s memoir of her first year of motherhood. She speaks truth in ways most of us are too wimpy to. Also, she’s very witty.

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin’s. This is the tale of an elderly woman who vanishes one day from a Seoul train platform. From the first pages, it’s apparent Mom has been gradually disappearing for years, as her children have grown busy with their own lives and her husband has paid her little attention.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan. Terry Ryan’s memoir is a tribute to her resourceful mother. While her alcoholic husband invested his wages in liquid assets, Evelyn Ryan kept her family of 12 afloat by composing advertising jingles for contests as she did the ironing. She converted her facility for language into money, cars, appliances and grocery shopping sprees while bequeathing her children the legacy of a can-do spirit.

Room by Emma Donoghue. This novel introduces us to a mother struggling to survive in extraordinary circumstances. Five-year-old Jack has spent his entire life in one room, just he and Ma, who makes sure Jack exercises, learns to read and eats the vegetables Old Nick brings on his otherwise unwelcome visits.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. Not until the end of this novel do you discover who the real narrator is. Erdrich takes the concept of unreliable narrator to new heights. Much of the book is written in the form of excerpts from the diaries of Irene America, a Native American artist, wife and mother. Diaries is plural, because she keeps two: the one she wants her husband to find and read, which is at least partly fictitious, and the real one that she keeps under lock and key. The effects of their parents’ relationship games on the kids is not insignificant.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. I read this book maybe 12 years ago and it stuck with me. Chang tells the life stories of her grandmother, her mother and herself. Her mother was a young woman during the Cultural Revolution. May you live in interesting times indeed. Small personal moments of heartbreak and triumph are magnified by surrounding large historical events.

Favorite Romances

I don’t read genre romances. I’m not knocking them; only saying they’re not my thing. But I am a sucker for a love story, happy or tragic or confused, as long as it’s well done. Sometimes the relationship is the story, and sometimes it’s only part of the bigger picture.  Off the top of my head, here’s a list of books with my favorite romances. These are in no particular order.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This is a tale of two magicians, a girl and boy, bound into a rivalry as children. The venue of their lifelong duel is a magical, mysterious circus.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Oh Gatsby – you let Daisy consume you too much.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. This series has two relationships I adore. Precious Ramotswe and JLB Matakoni is the first. Grace Makutsi and Phuti Radiphuti. They’re so real and sweet and awkward.

Second Nature by Alice Hoffman.  Nearly feral love with a semi-werewolf.

Emma by Jane Austen.  The intrepid match-maker who can’t see her own life clearly. For those who have never read Jane Austen and think she’s stuffy, you couldn’t be more wrong. This book is downright funny. Also touching.

Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler. Flawed and wonderful characters who stumble through wrong relationships on their way to each other.