One of the things I don’t get a chance to do so much since moving into my new position as a librarian for adults is read stories to people. So it’s kind of cool that with our library branch being renovated (and me being redeployed to a branch where I am kind of extraneous a lot of the time) I get to do something about that.
Jen — one of my adult-librarian colleagues — and I have been visiting seniors’ homes in our town and just reading stories to them. There are two of us so we can alternate and not get too tired, and so the listeners get a bit of a range of voices. Originally we looked at the kinds of stories recommended by “library services” books for this kind of program and oh my glob were they terrible. All Reader’s Digest “ain’t that just the way things work?” sorts of schmaltzy/down-homey bullshit. Instead we just grabbed books and stories we liked and read them to the seniors.
Yes, many of them fall asleep while we’re reading Ivan Coyote and Neil Gaiman and Lydia Davis, but we see that as a good thing. It’s soothing to be read to, and adults don’t get enough of that. And sometimes there are cookies after our 30-60 minutes are up!
A couple of weeks ago we ran into a couple of young visitors who were leaving and they saw our stacks of books (we always bring too many) and they asked what we’d be doing. Jen gave a bit of an elevator pitch and the family members smiled. Then the guy said “that crowd in there is hoping you work blue” and we all laughed. (We do tend to shy away from really cuss-laden stories for the old people.)
And because that’s been working in person I’m starting to do some grown-up storytime shows on Librarians on the Radio with Emily Orr (who also works on LotR proper). Yesterday was the first official one on the Changes broadcast, but I did a couple of independent test episodes as training on the boards at CHLY. I call them Librarianautica shows because I like the idea of these shows being a collection of stories a wandering librarian gathers. You can listen to yesterday’s show — Wild Musical Beasts — here. Apologies for the 30-second CHLY promo off the top.
The Ocean At The End of The Lane is Neil Gaiman’s latest book for adults, but it reminded me much more of Coraline or The Graveyard Book than American Gods.
Part of that is because of its small scale. There’s an author whose father has died and on his visit home for the funeral he stops by a neighbour’s farm. This prompts recollection of the story of the opal miner who was their lodger when he was seven, which is a story he’d forgotten. The story involves a creature giving people money and seducing his father so that he will never be able to get help.
I liked the story, it was beautiful and Gaimany. I kind of feel bad for saying it but I’d hoped for something more substantial.
Lud-in-the-Mist is a fairy story by Hope Mirrlees that was written in the 1920s but doesn’t feel especially out of date. There are some stylistic choices with the point of view never holding still with one character for long, which doesn’t feel very disciplined, but it’s completely forgivable because the story is so pleasant.
Lud in the Mist is a boring little town just to the East of the Faerie lands. When people start acting strangely the Mayor tries to get to the bottom of things and discovers smuggling of faerie fruit, which is such a tremendously obscene thing to eat or even discuss that in the court records it is referred to as silk. All sorts of things happen with this faerie fruit, including to the Mayor’s son and a whole school full of girls (guess which one is more of a concern). There are reversals and clever bits and friendship and strange oaths and it’s all quite charming.
If you enjoyed Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell or Neil Gaiman’s Stardust you really should read this fairly neglected classic.
It’s been a while since I read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mister Norrell, so the stories in The Ladies of Grace Adieu that dealt with characters from that novel probably had a bit more for recently finished readers, but as a book of fairy stories, the whole collection was very good.
Embroidery emerges as a motif in a couple of stories, but faerie are far far more prominent. I enjoy Clarke’s depictions of the fae as being bizarre aliens who don’t understand human concerns very well. The story set in the town of Wall (from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust) was probably my favourite in the book because the human was clever enough to get out with his skin intact, but not able to pull out a real victory. It felt very satisfying in the way a much older story would, which is what you want out of a book of faerie tales.
This week I hosted two preschool visits to the library on consecutive days. They were the same adults but different kids (mostly – a couple were there both days). I liked that arrangement because I got to directly fix things that went less well the first time through.
So here are the books I used. Neil Gaiman’s new picturebook Chu’s Day was our opener (after our welcome to storytime rhyme). It worked well with both groups, who really got into the “Ah ahhh ahhhh… No.” conceit. The only problem is that the “bad things that happen” probably require a bit closer examination to really admire the art. And the ending seems to leave kids wanting more.
I tried using Never Take A Shark to the Dentist the first time, because the cover was really attractive to the kids. The book ended up being a little high-concept for 3-4 year olds, but it was super easy to skip pages when that became apparent.
Stop Snoring Bernard worked really well in both groups. I got the kids to help with the snoring noises and in each group someone had one of those Cosby moments when they told everyone about one of their family members who snored. They also got to name some zoo animals, which helped keep everyone involved.
We did Shapes That Roll in the first session, but it was our last book and I think it would have played a bit better with more time to really get into all the shapes and explore them a bit. As it was we just kind of went with the rhyming.
In today’s session I replaced a couple of the less well-received books with a couple about trying very hard to be quiet. Mattoo, Let’s Play is about a loud little girl with a pet cat who forms a bond once she learns that some animals are best attracted by being quiet. We also did Read to Tiger which is about a tiger being very distracting when you’re trying to read. Everyone had fun making the loud distracting noises.
We did a dinosaur song both sessions it all worked out pretty well. Even the kid who was mad he wasn’t there to see a puppet show was unsullen at the end (that could have been because he was finally able to leave).
I’m going to try doing a few more of these types of storytime post-mortems because of something I took away from Miss Julie’s blog post where she mentioned:
In a profession that’s supposedly dominated by women, I find it sad that the librarians who get the most attention are mostly men (and, admittedly, some women), men who very rarely write about honest, simple, day to day issues in librarianship.
She goes on to discuss how technologists get all the “rockstar” status in our profession and no one cares about the bloggers who write practical things about doing the feminized work of dealing with kids. Since I’m guilty of writing the odd impractical technology rabblerousing bit, I want to make sure I’m also blogging some of these more practical day-to-day things too. It’s part of that whole advocacy for the importance of libraries and librarians thing to show that the non-technological stuff is important too. So here we go.
I read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen because Neil Gaiman talked about what an influential writer of fantasy Alan Garner was. While it does feel influenced by Lewis and Tolkien (with its very English kids off visiting the romanticized countryside), it’s much better than most knockoffs. It’s written for children and thus does focus more on a clear plotline than on character development, but man, does it do a great job of it.
Garner describes terrifying creatures and situations so well. Hell, he describes everything so well. The story moves surprisingly quickly, eschewing faux mystery for having the kids do more stuff. There’s an underground chase scene that has hard choices foisted on them at every turn and they don’t do everything exactly perfectly and it hurts them. A lot of the story is about hiding from bird spies for three days trying to meet up with the wizard to return the stone to him, and getting rejuvenation from elves, which yes, is very Tolkieny, but the language he uses never feels like an academic writing it (though if you hate made-up words, or words from old European languages that sound made-up you will hate this book).
There are more books in the series, but the book does have an ending (though it’s a touch abrupt). This is the kind of thing I’d been hoping The City of Ember would be (and wasn’t). It is vastly superior to most traditional fantasy tales. I really liked it.
Batman: The Black Casebook is a collection of 1950s bizarre Batman stories that Grant Morrison used in his Batman RIP storyline. Basically he was looking at the same issue of “What if all this crazy crap actually happened to Batman in one lifetime? Even the batshit insane stuff from the 1950s?” that Neil Gaiman looked at in Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? The Black Casebook is a testament to how batshit some of those 1950s stories were.
We’ve got Bat-Mite, Batman pretending to be Indian Chief “Man of the Bats” (seriously terrible), a pile of ridiculous international heroes inspired by Batman, an alternate universe where our Batman has Superman powers, and more. The stories are ridiculous, but it is interesting that Grant Morrison used bits of them to tell a contemporary tale. Interesting doesn’t mean entertaining though. I’d skip this unless you’re a real hardcore Batman aficionado.