If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s this: Moral certainty is easy. Practical action is hard and almost always requires some degree of compromise.
Here are two principles of public librarianship which underlie our work:
Public libraries have a mandate to provide materials that represent multiple perspectives on a range of issues and subjects, especially to reflect the various viewpoints of members of the library’s community.
Public libraries are trusted sources of reliable, authoritative information. We vet information sources to be sure we offer good info to our patrons.
What happens when these two principles stand in direct contradiction with each other? What do you do when you can’t fulfill both of these principles?
As Neil Gaiman said, “Google will bring you back … a hundred thousand answers. A librarian will bring you back the right one.” There’s been a great deal of talk these past few years about the role libraries can play in fighting the spread of misinformation and promoting information literacy.
But we have people in our communities who hold to ideas and perspectives that are incorrect, at least when assessed by standards of information literacy and authority. These people expect to come into their library—which their tax dollars help fund—and find materials which reflect their beliefs.
Black lives are not a problem to be solved or an academic text that can be studied. To recognize Black lives as ones to celebrate, empathize with and care about, here’s your antiracism work: read more fiction by and about Black people.
It brings to mind a story that has become core to who I am and how I see the world:
I love this article from the Harvard Business Review! It’s another article documenting the neurological, psychological, and social benefits of reading fiction. There have been several such over the past few years.
I love that we’re beginning to accept reading fiction as something that’s good for us on a deeper level than just entertainment and escapism (not that entertainment and escapism aren’t valuable in-and-of themselves!) Complex fiction builds empathy, connection, social intelligence, and theory of mind. It boosts creativity, both for new ideas and for problem solving. It improves our ability to grapple more productively with the complexity of the world we live in.
I love that businesses are beginning to realize the value of having employees who are educated beyond the requirements of job training.
And it’s not just reading fiction which presents these benefits: it can come from powerful storytelling in any format. Oral stories, theater, movies and television, music, visual arts. All of it, so long as it’s complex and nuanced. Stories are how we know who we are, how we’re both the same and different from one another, and how we relate to our world.
But this article also frustrates me. This is where I turn into a curmudgeon and tell you all:
I’ve had a couple conversations recently which have challenged me to examine this choice more deeply and articulate the reasons why I made it.
It has a great deal to do with my commitment to diversity and building empathy. I support #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Sharing stories is how we forge understanding and respect. I want to embody this belief in my personal reading choices.
But I also have a more selfish reason: my own personal entertainment.
I had been talking about the Two Spirit and queer authors and characters, the Indigenous settings and perspectives, the prefatory material which lay out the history and politics and which argue the need for stories like these—the important context surrounding these stories—and my friend noticed I wasn’t talking much about the stories themselves. Thus, his question.
I fumbled a bit to answer. Yes, some are good, a few excellent, some just OK. I voiced my belief that there’s benefit to reading stories like these even if they’re not good: I appreciate these works because of what they can teach me, how they challenge my assumptions and show me very different experiences and understandings of the world.
But the truth is also this: I don’t always know whether the stories I read are any good. I’m not always qualified to assess the quality of these works.
People tend to be surprised when I tell them how many former theater people end up going into libraries as a second career. But it’s true—I know several former costumers and stage managers, even a sound guy and a dramaturg or two, who left theater to pursue new careers as librarians or archivists. I estimate fully one third of my class in my Masters of Library and Information Science program were former theater people.
(Interestingly, I don’t personally know any actors, designers, or directors who left theater for libraries. None of the creative side, just us backstage folk.)
Thing is, theaters and libraries are a natural fit.
I finally got around to reading From a Certain Point of View, a collection of short stories written by a Who’s-Who roster of big name SF authors, all from the perspectives of side- and background characters in the original Star Wars movie. Most of them offer backstory or imagine what happened leading up to various scenes in the movie. Some imagine what was happening elsewhere in the universe.
This collection is a gimmick and it reads like one. The stories are all pretty good (some are excellent, none are bad) but very few of them would stand on their own merits. It’s an entertaining read, certainly, but mostly forgettable.
But it did get me thinking more about the Star Wars Expanded Universe and my ambivalence toward it. I love the movies but I’ve never bothered about the EU. There are a couple reasons why.
I got really into the TV show American Chopper some years back. I don’t have any interest in motorcycles and I couldn’t care less about the family drama between the stars of that show. But I loved watching it. I loved watching genuinely skilled people create their visions.
I love watching master craftspeople at work.
There’s joy in witnessing that level of skill. This is why I love shows about carpentry, home renovation, car mods, tattooing. It’s one of the many reasons why I love music, dance, theater, and athletics. It doesn’t matter if any of these interest me personally, I’m fascinated watching people who love doing them. Any human endeavor which requires skill to do well, is worth witnessing.
Reading Nighttime Is My Time by Mary Higgins Clark reminds me of watching American Chopper. She crafts her stories. Her control of plot and pacing and structure, how she manipulates the reader to place suspicion on different characters at different times, her myriad misdirections, how she builds the tension. She shows her work and gives us a ring-side seat to her creative process.
I enjoy witnessing her craft.
That being said, Nighttime Is My Time isn’t a very good book. I listened to the audiobook and the narration by Jan Maxwell is excellent. But the book itself drove me a bit nuts.
I didn’t think I was all that interested in seeing the new version of A Star Is Born. I’ve rarely been happier to be proven mistaken.
This film is phenomenal.
I’m a fan of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, both. So perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised that I ended up spending 2.25 hours sitting in a theater, losing myself in them.
I’m not going to offer a plot synopsis or go through specific scenes. There are a couple of points I want to make, but mostly I want to offer a list of all the reactions I had watching this movie. In no particular order:
Ever since posting my review of Kill the Farm Boy, I’ve been thinking anew about The Princess Bride. I don’t think I understood until recently just how much it influenced my sense of storytelling.
I first saw the movie when I was in junior high. I was beginning to form an abiding interest in the craft and techniques of storytelling but I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time. It would be some years yet before this interest broke the surface of my subconscious and explicitly revealed itself. There are several movies and books from this period of my life which influenced my understanding of the subject without me realizing it.
Like most people of my generation, I fell in love with The Princess Bride the first time I saw it. It was sarcastic and funny with beautiful young leads—I was young and sarcastic and wanted to be funny and beautiful. It was romantic and I was deeply invested in the ideal of being a hopeless romantic.
Or, everyone said the movie was romantic. It talks about True Love a lot and it has the shape of a love story. But I never really bought that part of it.