Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

A Halloween film that's been around since 2006, but still just as great every year:

The Life and Death of a Pumpkin by Blame Society Productions

Directed by Aaron Yonda, Pumpkin voiced by Matt Sloan

Viewer Discretion is Advised =)

Winner in Best Short Film and Best Concept categories, 2006 Chicago Horror Film Festival

BImber Books

I discovered some amazing handmade books over the weekend at an arts and crafts exhibit in Southwestern Virginia. These gorgeous mixed media creations were built by Becca Imbur.

I love the idea of books as art, and I absolutely think any book can count as "art." From a gleaming, gold leafed collector's edition to the most worn, tattered favorite copy with notes scribbled in the margins. Becca Imbur has elevated the idea of books as art to an extremely vibrant, graphic level, and her pieces are visual masterpieces inside and out.

With colorful pages, beautiful textiles, and whimsical details, I don't know how anyone could actually write in them, but if you could make yourself do so, they certainly would be inspirational journals. I have a couple bound journals that have been given to me over the years but which I feel are too pretty to write in (and they're nothing close to these), so I never have; hence depriving the books of their function and rendering them purposeless, which when you think about it that way seems kind of sad for them. What is a book without its contents?

These spectacular pieces would also be great for travel scrapbooks (as long as you have a big budget for your scrapbooking hobby--these journals are expensive), and a lot of the patterns would look very pretty under ink drawings or even watercolors. They were a lot of fun to flip through, I only wish the exhibit had had more of them (there are some beautiful ones on the BImber Books website!) I also think this would make a pretty awesome project for a personalized journal or scrapbook--I'm going to have to look into papermaking and book binding now!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Open Access Week

So I've nearly missed it, but I still wanted to throw link up here for Open Access Week (October 24-30, 2011). Open Access Week exists to promote and share the benefits of Open Access policies and publication with scholars and researchers around the world. Definitely a worthy cause.

For example take Open Office: a great program that includes word processing, spreadsheets and databases, presentation, and even drawing functions. So basically, all the essentials. I've never been a big fan of Microsoft Office (I especially detest Excel), and since I discovered Open Office I have started using it for just about everything. It's simple and straightforward and I think it would be an easy transition for Mac or PC users. If you're interested, give it a try!

Shredder Challenge

DARPA, the ones who brought us the $40,000 Red Balloon Hunt two years ago, has recently opened up a new challenge carrying an even bigger price tag. On October 27th five puzzles were released online, each puzzle consists of a series of screenshots of shredded document fragments. The goal, to reassemble the pieces and and solve the problem hidden within the reconstructed document. The payoff, $50,000 for you or your team. We typically think of shredding as a pretty permanent form of destruction; however, when you shred a document the contents may be difficult to read, but the information is more or less still there.

Why is DARPA giving away $50,000 to the talented decoder who solves their puzzles? Dan Kaufman, director of the Information Innovation Office, is predicting that the winner of the Shredder Challenge is likely to use techniques or technologies previously unexplored by DARPA researchers. Ultimately the hope is to gain insight into the process of document reconstruction which could be applied both to reviving destroyed documents in war zones where troops often come across remnants of enemy data and to protecting sensitive information used and shredded by United States security offices. According to Kaufman, “the ability to reconstruct shredded documents will potentially yield information that may save lives or offer critical information about an adversary’s plans. Currently, this process is much too slow and too labor-intensive, particularly if the documents are handwritten. We are looking to the Shredder Challenge to generate some leap-ahead thinking in this area.”

So whether it's by manual assembly or computer program, if you want to give your method a try, get started at the Shredder Challenge website. We're on the second day of the challenge now, but I don't think there has been must talk about successful applicants quite yet. In the Red Balloon Challenge, a group from MIT located the balloons to complete the task in less than nine hours, but it's always difficult to predict how much time a DARPA challenge will actually take. DARPA plans to reveal the winner of the Shredder Challenge on December 5, 2011.

An awesome-sounding project to be sure, though I don't think I'm smart enough to actually have a shot at it. It's neat that they (DARPA) are willing to look outside their usual research team for ideas and innovations. Good luck to anyone entering!

Follow Shredder Challenge updates on Twitter
DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) main website

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blogger plus Google+

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Apparently, Google is taking steps to integrate Blogger with their rising starlet, Google+. It sounds all well and good on the surface, but the big issue is undoubtedly going to be the strict requirement on Google+ that all accounts be registered under the real name of the user. On Blogger this has definitely not been the standard; writers enjoy the freedom to create accounts under Internet aliases while commenters can post replies completely anonymously. And I can't see people changing their opinions about that anytime soon. Google's current response to this hitch is a shrug and the comment that combining your Blogger and Google+ profiles may not be for you right now. But will the day come when integration is mandatory? The rumor in circulation right now is that Google is considering adapting their Google+ policy to allow users to register under nicknames or pseudonyms. The last thing Google wants to do is lose customers, especially since Blogger has such a huge user base.

This issue of real names aside, I'm still not sure I think the integration is such a terrific idea. Yes, it presents a powerful and effortless way to disseminate your blog posts, but will all your contacts on Google+ appreciate the possibly overwhelming stream of blog entries arriving from everyone in their circle?

I have always thought that the truly great thing about blogs is the opportunity they provide to put your thoughts "out there" on the Internet, available to any reader who might be interested, but not in a way that forces your posts down the throats of anyone in particular. Maybe the integrated Google+ and Blogger will have options for filtering out contacts' Blogger updates if you don't want them showing up all the time, but I don't know that that is really a good solution either. We'll just have to wait and see.

Socrates on the written word

A couple days ago I touched on the subject of how some people worry that excessive use of Google,  smartphones, and similar technology assistance is inherently making us less intelligent. Well apparently Socrates had similar concerns thousands of years ago over the spread of the written word to nearly every facet of life, and particularly when it was used to support, or replace, human memory. So maybe it's just our natural human trepidation of change and whatever is new showing up again and again. We're so predictable.
"Socrates, for example, was skeptical of writing, fearing that 'it will implant forgetfulness' in the human mind, offering 'no true wisdom... but only its semblance... Written words... seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent,' the philosopher said, 'but if you ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed, they go on telling you the same thing forever.'"

Quoted from: O'Toole, James M. "On the Idea of Permanence." American Archivist 52, no. 1 (1989): 10-25.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The end of WikiLeaks?

According to founder Julian Assange, WikiLeaks is in serious enough financial trouble to temporarily halt all publishing endeavors. This is the result of a blockade by major financial institutions such as Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, and Bank of America which prohibits the transfer of donations from WikiLeak supporters to the organization via their services. Following the initial blockade, WikiLeaks has managed to survive on cash donations for almost a year, but now things are looking grim. Discussing this "existential threat," Julian Assange revealed that the blockade had "cost the site tens of millions of dollars in lost donations and... if the blockade is not taken down by the end of the year the organization cannot continue in its work." Estimates are that WikiLeaks donations have dropped up to 95% over the last year because of this financial quarantine.

However, despite these desperate times, WikiLeaks isn't showing signs of surrender quite yet. Next month WikiLeaks plans to unveil a new, secure way for the general public to submit leaked documents to the site. 

Read more:
WikiLeaks Press Statement 10-23-11
Wall Street Journal

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Short messaging and change

It's remarkable how much our habits can change in ten brief years. A quote from an article written in 2001 by Jenny Preece includes a line about the rise of a new form of communication: "short messaging, or 'texting' as it is also known, is also becoming common in some countries." Ten years later her comment seems humorous just as it seems ludicrous to imagine an America where the majority of the population isn't texting constantly all day long. It's certainly not just high schoolers and Generation Y young professionals, even people who didn't grow up around computers and cell phones are becoming familiar with, and even passionate about, texting.

I've heard people talk about how texting and Google searches and even social media like Twitter is subtly changing the way we think and the way our brains work. All these methods and applications require short strings of words--a summary of a thought--and frequent use of this technology may have us thinking in abbreviations before long. I don't know if I buy the theories that all our modern technology is actually making us stupider. There is so much more information to receive and digest in today's world that without many of our technological gadgets we'd miss out on a large percentage of the information flow. But I think it is true that a combination of factors, namely this increase in information and the ease with which technology facilitates instant access and multitasking, have caused us to have a shallower, if broader, information base.

Where I might be more worried about our changing brain patterns is in the area of memory. With an iPhone you can look up a name, address, bus schedule, word definition, random news story or fact instantly. You don't have to worry about carefully planning a trip or remembering all the specifics of an event or meeting in advance. And when you do get to the point in your day where you need the information, you look it up on your phone without the urge to memorize the details even then because of the knowledge that an hour later, or twenty minutes later, or even ten minutes later if you need the information again you know where to find it. It will be intriguing to see what sort of research is being done in another ten years. I wonder if we'll still be texting then, or if we will have firmly moved on to whatever is coming next.

Jenny Preece. (2001). Sociability and usability in online communities: Determining and
measuring success, Behaviour & Information Technology, 20:5, 347-356.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October fun

Fall is definitely here! October is always one of my favorite months of the year, and one of the must-dos of this season is carving pumpkins. One of my sisters and I carved pumpkins yesterday, so I thought I'd share the results of our efforts.

I carved the skull; I'm never totally happy with the way these things turn out, but the process is always so much fun that I don't really mind.

Death by Theory

Time for another book review.

Death by Theory was first brought to my attention when it appeared on the reading list of one of my classes (Anthropology 101) in my very first semester of undergrad. While I was in the class, I never actually got around to reading more than the back cover and the first chapter or two, but I hung on to the book for years because I always thought it sounded like a neat read. The author, Adrian Praetzellis, set out to write a book that would be both an entertaining story and a sort of introduction to the world of archaeology and anthropology for students. In the book, one of the characters, Dr. Hannah Green, is actually engaged in the process of writing an introductory "ABCs" of archaeology for students with the hope of motivating and educating new students in the field; as a reader you get the feeling that Dr. Green's mix of enthusiasm and anguish for her project is definitely part autobiographical.

The plot revolves around Dr. Green and her nephew, Sean, a recent graduate from college who majored in archaeology who is now out in the world looking for his first job. The two find themselves accepting positions on a team of archaeologists working on a very secretive dig site in Washington state, Dr. Green as a consulting specialist, and Sean as, well, as a dig bum. The mysterious site, which resembles a European Neolithic burial ground, complete with a Venus von Willendorf-esque goddess statue, is impossibly out of place on an island off the coast of Washington and events become more and more bizzare as Dr. Green attempts to confirm the authenticity of the site.

Praetzellis' eccentric cast of characters include Dr. Ian Tuliver, the elitist professor in charge of the dig, Mr. Ollie Bott, wealthy benefactor, a team of well-exploited student workers, and a band of some sort of Neopaganists calling themselves the Children of Odin. The transitions between the often high-energy plot-driven scenes and the occasionally lengthy exposition on archaeological terms and theories are a little lacking, and sometimes the lecturing by Dr. Green or the discussion between the students can seem a little forced, but I really like the concept behind the book. Praetzellis wants to provide students with a different way of learning and I think that his amusing characters and tongue and cheek diagrams are a good step towards that goal.

Marxism illustration from Death by Theory

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Trapped in the library

You know your library design is flawed and in need of help when your students stop abruptly in front of the entrance doors (this library has separate entrance and exits), look around in confusion, and then grab a passerby to ask "Hey, how to I get out of this library?"

True story.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What do you love?

An interesting, somewhat new Google feature, "What do you love?" is essentially a multi-search function which allows you to simultaneously search across various Google services (Google images, Google books, Youtube, etc.) The actual practicality of the tool is questionable, but maybe "What do you love?" is giving us a glimpse of what's ahead for Google. As attempt to make their different platforms seem more cohesive, this product has some shortcomings: it doesn't seem to be able to detect when certain services might be more appropriate for specific queries, and the constant plugs for Gmail and Google Voice are annoying. But it's always interesting to see what Google is coming up with next. "What do you love?" can be seen as Google's next step towards the perfect search engine, or, perhaps, world domination.

But it is rather fun to play around with. Ever needed to "scour the earth for radioactive materials?" (with Google Earth) or "measure the popularity of birdhouses on the web?" (with Trends) or "explore crime in 3D?" (with SketchUp) or "find Doctor Who nearby?" (with Google Maps). Well, if so, Google's got you covered.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cat-Reader (the new reading tool)

As a cat owner, I found this photo irresistible. In my experience the cat is more likely to sit on top of the page or in front of your face or cause some sort of distraction than to actually help you with your reading (especially if it is school-related, required, and due in less than 12 hours). But it's pretty darn cute:

Everything's better with peanut butter

Peanut butter M&M cookies!

But what do cookies have to do with libraries?

Well, I'll tell you. I've always loved spending time in libraries and I was incredibly excited to attend a college that had more than a dozen libraries across campus. The undergraduate library wasn't the oldest or the most ornate and didn't even have the most books, but what it did have was comfy chairs (really old, faded orange, rather odd looking, but comfy chairs) and lots of computers (these were the days before everyone carried their laptop around with them everywhere) and extended hours. During the weekdays the library was open 24 hours a day, which to me was almost unimaginably cool. So when I found out that you could also eat in the library, I figured I could pretty much move in for good.

Libraries traditionally have a reputation for being very strict about things like food and noise and what you are supposed to be doing while you are there. And of course there are reasons for the rules: protecting the materials and preserving an atmosphere that everyone can use, but taking away those policies can also be incredibly welcoming and liberating to people--even those who already enjoyed and appreciated the library for what it was.

For me, telling me that I could bring my goldfish or my coffee, a cookie or two for a late night snack, or even my whole dinner into the library had the effect of making me feel instantly at home and ensuring that I came back (often), brought my friends, and eventually even got a part time job there. (It also meant that during exams you could order take out Chinese food to the library, and really, does it get any cooler than that?)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Information issues on TV

I was very amused to see a current information "hot topic" play a role in an episode of ABC's detective show, Castle. For people who don't know the show, it's an entertaining story about a serious and determined NYPD detective named Kate Beckett and the spontaneous, conspiracy-loving best-selling author, Richard Castle, who (after following Beckett around during the first season as "research" for his new book) becomes essentially her partner in solving increasingly convoluted crimes.

In the episode "Head Case," a scientist breaks with his financial backer when he makes the decision to publish his research online in an open source format after that sponsor has spent years investing thousands of dollars in the doctor's studies. When the scientist is murdered shortly after the breach, the investor's potential loss of profits from the future publication of the research findings makes him the team's first murder suspect. With all the encouragement for professors and researchers to choose open source publishing over traditional journals in an effort to combat the skyrocketing prices of scholarly serials (and the "publish or perish" mentality associated with tenure-seeking), the effects of open source on the role of financial supporters and funding will become increasingly important. In these shows the first suspect is rarely ever the actual culprit and this theory of motive is quickly replaced by the next plot twist, but I thought it was entertaining to see the consequences of open source portrayed so dramatically on television.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Serendipitous discoveries

On the topic of incidental information acquisition (IIA), the very first aspect to consider, from a scholarly point of view, is whether it even is a valid topic to study. Is there more to it than just unintentional eavesdropping, such as overhearing a conversation on the bus? What is there to learn in the field and how can it help us? Jannica Heinström would say that increasing our understanding of spontaneous thinking can be incredibly valuable and, for one thing, could help information system designers build systems that are more compatible with the way our brains collect and process new information from the world around us.

Heinström is particularly interested in the link between personality traits and emotional states and an individual's "proneness for serendipitous discovery." We are constantly bombarded with information as we walk through the world or sit behind a computer, and our brains are in an ongoing process of consciously or unconsciously selecting which of the messages and bits of info we encounter to detect, select, and store. There are obviously some environments where we are probably more likely to acquire incidental information, walking down a busy downtown block, for example, where we will come into contact with many unanticipated people and signs, but physically isolated environments can be just as fruitful from an IIA standpoint when we are reading a book, or the newspaper, or interacting with a community online. And according to studies, it seems that some people are more likely to have these IIA experiences--or at least to register and retain them.

In her 2006 article, Heinström lists personality characteristics often associated with people who seem to be frequent serendipitous discoverers: "sagacity, awareness, curiosity, flexible thinking, and persistence." It makes sense that people who are more open, curious, or spontaneous would be more receptive to the flow of information around them. It has been shown that "motivation is the basic fuel for information seeking;" the more interested you are in your topic, the more likely you are to achieve a higher level of search results. So it would be logical to follow that people who are open and adventurous or have a wide range of interests would encounter information in an incidental way more frequently. But where I disagree with Heinström is where she brings the discussion into the terms of extravert vs. introvert. She sites extraverts' "higher need for outer incentives" and increased levels of activity as reasons for their sensitivity to IIA. It seems a bit of a stretch to consider extraverts more open and innovative simply because they may spend more of their time in people-heavy environments and crave the variety that comes with new situations and people.

As an introvert anything I have to say on this is, naturally, heavily biased, but I feel like introverts are often extremely observant, perceptive individuals, and while they may not feel as comfortable in busy or highly populated arenas, during the time they are in those environments they are likely to be incredibly sensitive to new information. And to the argument that extraverts are more frequent spontaneous discoverers because they thrive on variance and therefore their very routines reinforce a higher potential for perception, I would argue that an introvert reading a book alone can come into contact with just as much incidental information as an extravert at a party. Especially in our digital age, extraverts are not necessarily more likely to explore new situations. Heavy use of social media tools--blogs, chats, MMOs--can expose introverts to new people and places through the privacy and peacefulness of their own living room.

It's important to remember that "introvert" and "extravert" are poor generalizations, and few people are at one extreme end of the continuum or the other. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle; but still people are fond of attaching these blanket terms to others. Information incidental acquisition hasn't been studied all that much, mainly because it's incredibly difficult to capture and examine something like serendipity in the real world. As studies go forward, I think it could be more interesting to consider what underlying factors make individuals more curious or naturally observant than to get stuck in these notions of extroversion vs. introversion.

Heinstrom, J. (2006). Psychological factors behind incidental information acquisition. Library & Information Science Research, 28(4):579-594.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


More and more people are naming Wikipedia as the source they turn to to resolve their questions. Whether you want to know the name of that episode from last season of House or what principles Einstein's theory of relativity contains, Wikipedia has the answer. Everyone knows the way Wikipedia works: various people around the world volunteer their time to contribute, edit, and add to the literally millions of articles that make up the free, open access database. And the first question that should come to everyone's mind is 'Can we really trust this information?' There is no process of approval or accuracy checking prior to "publication" on Wikipedia, which means that information updates are instantaneous, but also that there is no filtering process for articles with heavy bias, gaping omissions, or simply wrong information. But could this uncertainty be, partially, seen in a positive light?

Quoting Wikipedia co-founder and former editor-in-chief, Larry Sanger, "What Wikipedians themselves would say and I agree with them on this one is that Wikipedia has finally awakened in people an understanding that even carefully edited resources can frequently be wrong and have to be treated with skepticism and that ultimately we are responsible for what we believe. That means constantly going back and checking what we thought was established or what we thought we knew. Wikipedians often say that you should never trust any one source, including Wikipedia. That's not anything new; it's always been the case that you should check your source against another source. It's just that the way that the Internet has exposed the editorial process has, for more critical-minded people, made it absolutely plain just how much responsibility we ourselves bear to believe the right thing."

It's an interesting perspective, that the responsibility for the accuracy of the information you gather online, or anywhere, lies with yourself, not with the author or creator of that information. It certainly expands the notion of "taking responsibility for what you say" to taking responsibility for what you read, believe, and think. Wikipedia makes it clear that in an information saturated world, we have to read and listen carefully and critically. Used appropriately Wikipedia can be a very useful tool, but putting too much blind faith in it can be dangerous. And really, the same can probably be said of any reference or information resource.

Also, I love the term Larry Sanger uses for contributors to Wikipedia: "Wikipedians." It sounds like something out of Dr. Seuss.

Schulz, Karen. (26 July 2010) "This Interview Is A Stub: Wikipedia Co-Founder Larry Sanger on Being Wrong." The Wrong Stuff.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tomorrow? Or not

(Life really gets in the way of blogging sometimes.)

The authors of The Invisible Gorilla, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, have conducted a variety of awareness tests as part of their research on selective attention, memory, and human perception and intuition. Some of their videos can be found on their website. I saw the site on a post by one of my classmates, and found the videos both pretty entertaining and thought-provoking.

This awareness test is a pretty basic example, and maybe not the best set-up, but I do think it's undeniable that our brains don't always seem to work the way we think they do. The awareness test is a fun way to demo that fact. And if it "didn't work" on you, try some of the other videos on their site, or look for their book--I know I plan to.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A wedding?

"I love weddings. Drinks all around!"

My lapse in updates has been due to a trip up to Maryland for a friend's wedding. Somehow I thought I'd have time to write something yesterday or today, but it just didn't happen. Regular postings to return tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs


Visit Charis Tsevis' portfolio for many more portraits.


In everything we do we leave behind traces, fragmented remnants of our lives: muddy footprints on the sidewalk, crumpled papers abandoned on library computer terminals, empty water bottles and pen caps. Physical items floating around in the world waiting to be scavenged, thrown out, or washed away by the next rain storm.

Within the digital world, the traces themselves may be different, but they are no less numerous than their physical cousins. Comments on YouTube videos, status updates on Facebook and Twitter, search history, bookmarks, file copies floating around your hard drive...

Archivists are interested in preserving these traces (when they possess some significance or hold valuable qualities), and
digitally capturing and organizing these fragments poses many new challenges and is prompting the evolution of new methods and policies on appraisal and collection. I think the existence of traces is quite fascinating. We are leaving bits and pieces of ourselves all over the web, often without a thought of how we might recover them or who else might stumble across them. And it's not just the privacy issues involved, but the greater question of what is going to happen to all this user-generated content that is hanging around, taking up space, in some cases developing a life of its own as it spawns reply postings, re-tweets, and "likes" long after the original creator has left the room, gone offline, or moved on to their next project. Some things will simply fade away, or fall off the map as pages are updated and sites or profiles are taken down, but a lot of it persists, maybe hidden in the coding, but there nonetheless. Ghosts in the system.

The art of keeping

Whether you are an archivist of important government documents or a personal information manager for the most ordinary person, "any scholar with a little intellectual ingenuity can find a plausible justification for keeping almost every record that was ever produced."

Everyone has experienced the classic tragic situation of giving away information (or some object) just a little too soon. Inevitably, something has never proved itself useful, but, as soon as it is no longer in your possession, the perfect occasion arises where it could finally have been helpful. Most recently this happened to me with a Latin dictionary. I have never taken Latin and don't really know any Latin whatsoever, but I had held onto this book for years thinking it might be useful. Before I started grad. school I did a book purge to clear some room on my bookshelves, and donated several tall stacks to a local library. I went back and forth on the Latin dictionary for a while until finally deciding that it really should go into the exile pile. Naturally, less than a month later something came up where it would have been most helpful to have such a book on hand.

Now I'm not saying that this is proof of why we should keep everything, just that until someone masters the skill of divination, it is impossible to fully and accurately predict exactly what will be useful in the future and what will never be looked at again. Our options are to preserve everything, keep things at random, or make the best guesses we can and laugh (or cry) over our failures.

Schellenberg, T.R. "The Appraisal of Modern Public Records." In A Modern Archives Reader, edited by Maygene F. Daniels and Timothy Walch, 57-70. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Service, 1984.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Library images

Law Library of the University of Zurich, Switzerland

I just stumbled across a cool list: 10 of the Most Beautiful Libraries collected from countries all across the globe. I think the author makes a good point that in addition to the traditional museums and monuments, libraries are a great place to visit when traveling. There's no doubt they can tell you a lot about a place, and they are sometimes very cool buildings.

Personally I love the Library of Congress. It's not such an unexpected tourist spot, but just about everything about that building, from the fountain outside to the ceilings to the books, is so visually detailed it just begs to be looked at.

Now that's an entrance hall.

Inscriptions over the lintels read: "In Books lies the soul of the whole past time" and "Words are also actions, and actions are a kind of words."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Banned Books Week Pt. 2

A follow-up on banned books week. The professor's blog posted an article earlier this year detailing 25 banned books that you should read today. It's a good list. I especially liked the description of James Joyce's Ulysses: "The novel has been called the 20th century's best novel. It has also been called the most vulgar, obscene and blasphemous book ever to be banned in the U.S. For many years, copies of the novel were seized before they could enter the country." It's ironic that a book could simultaneously be considered the pinnacle of greatness and the most depraved scum to be smeared across a sheet of paper. Looking over the list, there are a lot of works that fall into this sort of category of two extremes: The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, The Lord of the Rings (really? come on, people!).

I think it's absurd that school systems and communities are still banning books, telling teachers who have been in the classroom for twenty years what to teach their students, and pulling picture books off library shelves. Don't you have better things to do with your time? And over-protective parents, don't you realize that "forbidding" your child to read a book will only make the book more appealing? I can think of a lot of books that I have read and haven't totally enjoyed or even agreed with, but I've never read a book and had the reaction that there was something so objectionable about it that it simply shouldn't be allowed to be read. The idea of banned books and book burnings seems like such an antiquated concept to my mind, but, unfortunately, it still has a strong presence in our modern world today.