Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Nanny Diaries, a Kirkus-style review

Authors: McLaughlin, Emma and Kraus, Nicola

Review Date: JANUARY 31, 2010
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages: 320 pages
Price (paperback): $13.95
Publication Date: 02/06/2007
ISBN: 031237433X
Classification: NOVEL

McLaughlin and Kraus ignore family and class experts to tell us just how horrible rich people really are to their children.

Nan is a college student in need of a part time job.  Figuring that taking care of a child should be pretty easy, she goes in search of a family needing a nanny.  Because they are rich, and therefore terrible people, family X is all too happy to hire her to raise their son Grayer.  Nan witnesses a long string of selfish parents, neglect, abandonment, extramarital affairs, and borderline emotional abuse – a series of events that could only be made mundane by the erratic pacing of this novel.  Through half-explained time jumps, several months pass in which Nan and Grayer bond.  But Mrs. X ultimately decides that Nan is a worse mother-substitute than she, herself, is a mother, and so Nan is unceremoniously fired.  Proving once again that poor people are superior to rich people in every way, Nan concludes the novel with dignity and some words of advice stolen from Dr. Phil.

A book with only one saving grace – Julia Robert’s performance on the audio.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Of all the genres we could read this semester, the one I hate the very most (yes, even more than nonfiction) is Romance.  Those stories bore me to tears.  I need something else going on along with the romance.  Afraid that I would be stuck reading something horrific, even after avoiding the covers featuring Fabio, I decided to make this genre my classic. 

I’m not a Jane Austen fangirl.  I don’t find her stories particularly inspiring, but I think that’s partly because I read books that used her as source material before ever picking up one of her novels.  In that regard, I admit that I’m a little unfair to Jane Austen.  All the same, I enjoy reading her novels, and I picked this genre because I’ve wanted to read another for a long time now.

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, second daughter of a pompous baronet whose frivolous spending has put his family on the edge of financial ruin.  To pay his debts and continue living as he thinks a baronet ought to, the family estate is rented.  The new tenant Admiral Croft is the brother-in-law of Captain Wentworth, who we learn was engaged to Anne 8 years ago.  While she loved Wentworth, Anne had been persuaded by a friend to call off the engagement on the grounds that he was not suitable for a baronet’s daughter.  In the 8 years they had been separated, however, Wentworth had done well for himself.

The romance between Anne and Wentworth is one of rediscovery.  Since the story is told mostly from Anne’s perspective, it is clear that she is not over Captain Wentworth, but she believes her chance is gone.  I feel that the romance is spoiled, however, by Wentworth’s abrupt declaration of love.  I knew it was coming as I reached the end of the book, but I didn’t expect such a sudden and impersonal conclusion.  Even for Jane Austen, that moment between Anne and Wentworth was mild.

There is always one character in every Jane Austen novel that takes my breath away.  In Pride & Prejudice it’s Elizabeth Bennett.  In Sense & Sensibility, it’s Colonel Brandon (who is the literary crush of my life).  I was very upset by the fact that, at the end of Persuasion, I still hadn’t found any character that really grabbed me.  There were plenty I liked and disliked, but none like Elizabeth Bennett, and especially none like Colonel Brandon. 

A friend once described Persuasion as “Jane Austen at her worst.”  I would have to agree in a qualified way.  Even at her worst, Jane Austen is the very best of romance authors.  This certainly wasn’t my favorite novel, but I did enjoy it.  I think Persuasion is an important book as Jane Austen’s posthumous final novel, and I’m glad I did read it, but I won’t re-read it.

Book Information:
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Barnes & Noble Classics, reprinted 2004. 416 pages.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown is the third in the Robert Langdon series and the sequel to Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. In his latest novel, Brown writes about another historical and religious conspiracy – the Ancient Mysteries.

The novel begins with Robert Langdon arriving in Washington, DC for a lecture he has been asked to give only that day.  As he enters the Rotunda of the Capitol building, he receives an eerie message – a severed human hand marked with ancient symbols of invitation.  Within minutes, Langdon finds himself questioned by the CIA about a matter of national security.  Langdon has to decode the secrets of the Ancient Mysteries before a mysterious villain murders his friend and prominent Free Mason, Peter Solomon.

During this novel, my mind kept turning to the Nicholas Cage movie National Treasure.  The source mythology is the same – the Templar treasure – but the treasure in The Lost Symbol isn’t gold and jewels; it’s something much more profound – the key to spiritual enlightenment.  What makes this book so rewarding is that the Ancient Mysteries are hidden in plain sight.

Free Masons responded well to this book, and after reading it I can see why.  While other secret organizations have been eviscerated in Brown’s novels, the Masons are cleared of all negative connotations the public has about them.  While the villain is a Mason, it’s clear from the first that he has infiltrated the group in order to destroy them. One after another, Masons come to Langdon’s rescue as he is pursued by the antagonist and the CIA.

Brown’s detail in this novel is as enlightening as in the previous two books in this series.  For the first time, I recognized most of the symbols illustrated in this novel.  Instead of skipping over the drawings and reading Langdon’s explanation, I spent long periods of time trying to decode the puzzles myself.  I didn’t succeed, but it made Langdon’s following answer much more rewarding.

I was highly amused that Robert Langdon would be so skeptical of the Ancient Mysteries.  This is, after all, the man who discovered the lost bloodline of Jesus Christ.  Langdon persists in denying even the possibility that the Ancient Mysteries are real long after the reader has already accepted it.  At the same time, his befuddled acceptance of Noetic science (also known as fringe science) comes very naturally.  When a scientist speaks, Langdon listens; when a priest speaks, Langdon debates.  This is where I think Brown has hit the nail on the head without beating the reader senseless.

I don’t want to reveal the secret of the Ancient Mysteries that Langdon unravels in this book, but I do want to give a word of caution.  While this book isn’t as openly controversial as The Da Vinci Code, it is nonetheless challenging the traditional interpretation of the Bible, Torah, and Koran.

Book Information:
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Doubleday Books, 2009. 528 pages.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Regarding Privacy & Patron Records

On my refrigerator is a magnet that reads: ‘THE PATRIOT ACT: Turning citizens into suspects since 2001’.  That should give you some idea of my political views.  So, here’s a question:  Why don’t I care about this?

Yes, what you see there is my patron record from the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library.  Everything I have ever checked out on my card is there – hosted on a server, accessible on the web.  If this is possible, then I’m sure my checkout history is public viewing to everyone working at KHCPL.

So why don’t I care?  It’s not because I don’t have anything to hide – although I don’t.  And it’s not because I figured I’m already on a Homeland Security watch list so it doesn’t really matter – although I probably am and it probably doesn’t. 

The answer is this:  Carol Choksy.  If you haven’t taken Records Management with her, I highly recommend the class.  Not only will you learn a lot and have fun, but it’s a unique perspective on document and data management.  Part of what we discussed in that class is data security – or the lack thereof.

Last week in class, we talked a little bit about security of patron records and what libraries can do to protect their patrons.  I think most of us ended that discussion with the belief that library records are “wiped clean” after the materials are checked back in.  Unfortunately, that is probably not the case.

The patron records are deleted from the software system, but not the hardware.  The software is hosted on a server, and information written to that machine is incredibly difficult to erase.  Department of Defense standards say that the location of that data must be written over seven times before the data is destroyed.  I’m not sure libraries have programmed that command into their circulation software functions. 

It takes an incredible amount of time, equipment, and technical knowledge to recreate data that has been “deleted” from a computer, but it can be done.  The Department of Homeland Security would have the resources necessary to find patron records if the servers were ever seized. 

So I guess I don’t care that my reading history is available to anyone with my library card number (which is dangling from my keychain, by the way) and software to crack my password because I figure it won’t be completely deleted anyway. 

What libraries do to protect patrons isn’t nothing.  At places other than KHCPL, the information has at least been removed from public viewing.  That’s some comfort, at least.  Personal and legal issues are kept private from the people patrons see on regular basis, if nothing else.  I think it gives patrons some comfort to hear that their preferences are private, even if that’s not entirely true.

But I want to point out that this is not the only weakness in libraries’ records management.  We send e-mails to patrons informing them that their materials are due in a week and that materials they’ve requested are ready to pick up.  In most workplaces, all e-mail is stored on disk or tape in case there are legal or personnel reasons to critique behavior.  Some patrons reading interests will be stored there.

We also send out e-mails and letters regarding late fees.  For financial purposes, we are required to keep these records for a certain amount of time.  It’s true that those who break the law forfeit their civil liberties, but I don’t believe that a person’s right to privacy is nullified because they kept a library book longer than they were supposed to. 

All the same, libraries must keep these records, and they are patron records.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Introducing Heather ...

Hello! My name is Heather Bowman. I have 4 classes left before I earn my degree. The electives I’ve chosen have mostly been Technical Services related, and I thought I needed some more Public Services type classes before I graduate, so I signed up for this class.

I’ve been the E-Resources/Government Documents Assistant at the IU Kokomo Library for 2 ½ years. I think I’d like to become an Electronic Resources Librarian. I know all the problems and issues with e-resources might cause most people headaches, but tracking down the solutions is my favorite part of the job.

I’m an introvert, and I need a lot of time alone every day to recharge my batteries. I have quiet, peaceful hobbies. Not surprisingly, I love reading, but also writing fiction. I enjoy visiting museums. My favorite is the Indianapolis Museum of Art gardens (although the exhibits are wonderful too).

This blog is titled Where Many Paths and Errands Meet after a line in “The Old Walking Song” from my favorite book, “The Lords of the Rings.” I was introduced to JRR Tolkien’s works about 6 years ago, and I’ve become a consummate fan of high fantasy since. More recently, I started reading science fiction after a co-worker promised me I would love Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series. I’ve always enjoyed history, and most of my reading choices are either literary classics or historical fiction. Anything with an element of history will pull me in, which is how I got started reading some suspense, mysteries, romances, and horror.

I’ve tried reading some ChickLit, but it doesn’t appeal to me much. I realized this while reading “Chasing Harry Winston” by Lauren Weisberger and wishing the main characters would get hit by a bus. There are a few exceptions, such as Cecelia Ahern, who I think is a fantastic storyteller. I generally avoid bestsellers unless I like the author, the book has been recommended to me by a friend, or I’ve read a really good review.

I look forward to meeting everyone in class.