Media Seasons


Michael Chabon

A serendipitous decision to sit down early this evening and catch up on reading the weekend’s papers gave me an hour and a half to scurry over to my old alma mater, Lehigh University, to hear author Michael Chabon speak about how his Jewishness affects his literature. I cannot sleep until I write about it!

Chabon devilishly warned us that his speech was in six parts, each lasting an hour?! Oh, if it could only be so—that we might luxuriate in his incredible use of language and provocative connections. I had dragged along my teenage son, who wanted to know if he would really be interesting, since he hadn’t even finished reading one of Chabon’s books, Kavel and Clay, which I knew lay on a heap in the middle of his bedroom floor because I had tripped over it one morning not long ago dodging backpack and dirty clothes to get to the window to lift the shade to hurry along his painstakingly slow waking up process. Little did I know that Chabon would be discussing parents’ betrayal of their children! My son and I probably laughed more together than we have since he was ten—as Chabon addressed the most important mysterious truths of our lives, including religion, sexuality, mortality and the necessary betrayal that comes along with it.

Chabon began with a glimpse of a “first father,” Barack Obama on his inaugural weekend, an event he witnessed in Washington D.C. with at least one of his own sons. Chabon encapsulized so many of my own hopes and fears for this new leader of our country and this moment in history that I wondered how much our same birthyear (1963) —so close to that of J.F. Kennedy’s assassination formed so many shared thoughts. His exploration of father led us not only to God, but Abraham and his own parenting, including the long history of circumcision.

Chabon deftly moved us between the individual as parent and the social contexts that are difficult to remove ourselves from as we parent. While talking about time and memory related to parenting, and moving us from Biblical stories to Star Trek in a mere few sentences, one of Chabon’s most striking quotes was related to a Star Trek multi-generational episode in which he states, “Children collapse time.”

Look for his new book this fall, in which the explorations of this speech will be thoroughly presented in a quirky, provocative manner. I can hardly bear the thought of waiting for it. In response to a question, he also let us know the Coen brothers will be working on a script of his Yiddish Policeman’s Union. He appeared as thrilled as I did about that news, even surmising that someone like a 1970’s Eliot Gould would be perfect for the leading role. In the meantime, I’ll be reading Chabon’s Maps and Legends book I picked up this evening. I’m sure I’ll have more to share as I work through the ideas he pitches at me in that title! Yes, I had to use some baseball lingo, since he dropped several such phrases this evening (made me want to crack open his Summerland for another read).

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a definition of screening

Are you “screening”? 

I love following the etymology of words and coining of new ones.  Take a look at this new entry in the urbandictionary:  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=screening

 “Screening” just seems to over value only one of the components of the act of “screening.”  What is the relevance of screens without the depth of thought from the person who is reading what is on the screen?   This definition calls to mind the much-older phrase “tabula rasa.”  If screening were merely this urbandictionary definition, the “blank slate” of the screener’s eye lens would merely reflect what is viewed on the screen.  It’s those connections the one who screens screener makes that should be the focus. 

  This distinction reminds me of the ongoing dilemma in my professions.  Do we call ourselves librarians OR library media specialists OR information specialists OR some other newfangled word?  I much prefer the morphing of the word “librarian” to include more media as it is invented and created in new forms.  The power of libraries are what the users DO with the collections at hand. 


Australia: Bush Fires and Books

I find it more than a little bit ironic that as I’ve been thinking of the Australians battling the heat and fire deaths, we here in eastern Pennsylvania have just begun to experience a couple days of heavy rainfall and gusts of wind up to 50 miles per hour.  

Relief efforts are already underway, so now’s my chance to showcase Aussie talent.  Margaret Mahy is one of my must-read authors I have been following for over twenty years.  She is one of the few from anywhere who succcessfully writes for all ages, those each title often is clearly a favorite of a certain age group.  For grown-up reads, nothing beats Markus Zusak, who though often labeled “Young Adult writer,” captures the attention of every adult reader I know who has read one of his books.  One of my newer Aussie finds is Judith Ridge, whose comments I have followed for a couple years on CHILD_LIT.  Now I’ve been enjoying her blog westword. 

Judith has done an awesome job of collecting relevant and interesting literary references for all things Australian.  One of my favorite links she shares is Inside a Dog.  Created by the Centre for Youth Literature of the State Library of Victoria, the site offers young readers loads of thoughts and opportunities to share.  Inside a Dog is a reference to the famous Groucho Marx quip about the advantages of reading and dogs. 

Laurine Crausdale is the site’s current writer-in-residence, who is blogging regularly, including personal experiences with the bush fires as well as literature.   I chuckled through her list of one-liners based on books, including one I know some of my reading friends will recognize:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

By the time I was finished, the sky was yellow, like burning newspaper.

 

Some of the one-liners are enticing enough to make me want to buy the book right now!  Laurine invites readers to share their own to be posted.  Try one!  I’ve never been a great headline writer (too wordy I guess), but I admire the talent in others.  Successful posters will no doubt want to try the Hemingway contest next.  I think that one brings in a load of money!


Julius Lester

Invariably, as a librarian I am asked to suggest a best book for themes, such as multiculturalism or Earth Day or, as the case is for February– Black History Month.   I’ve always winced slightly at these requests because of the showcasing focus for just one short period of time, as if one book can encapsulate all the significance of a topic. 

I recall taking an African American literature course at state university in Pennsylvania in the mid 1980’s.  Most of the students were African Americans who were not lit majors.   Raised and looking the part of a WASP, even if my maiden name (Cline) was Jewish-sounding, I was asked more than once by my fellow classmates WHY I was taking the class?  They couldn’t seem to grasp that as a literature major and an aspiring educator, I might genuinely want to explore a cultural upbringing other than my own.  Sometimes it’s difficult to work outside the boxes we draw around ourselves and others. 

Julius Lester’s work does.  How many African Americans also practice the Jewish faith taken on as an adult?  Lester’s autobiographical texts offer incredibly varied experiences and thoughts about his own life that widened my sense of the world.   His life journey has been a long one through some of the most tumultuous civil rights times in the United States. 

Lester’s need to reclaim the power of story in plotlines and characters that have long been misunderstood and appropriated, whether decades (see the Uncle Remus stories or Sam and the Tigers: a retelling of the Little Black Sambo story) or hundreds of years (see Pharoah’s Daughter or Othello), underscores his talent.  His inventive creativity also provides us with new literary landscape in a title such as We Real Cool.

As one of the first participants of the Rutgers University Youth Literature and Technology post-graduate certificate program, I was lucky enough to enroll in Voice of the Author, wherein we studied just three authors’ works in depth and then maintained an ongoing threaded discussion with each for an extended part of the semester.  We could always count on Julius’s amazing graciousness but complete honesty.   

One of my favorite classmates expressed offense at Lester’s frank discussion of his view of women at earlier points in his life.  For those of my generation who grew up with Judy Blume’s characters and feminism, that was difficult to swallow, but not nearly as difficult as what my reading experience was  with To Be a Slave.   My greatest amazement is that Lester maintains his sensitivity to those who are caught in their own time when he seems to be able to float through time to explore powerfully strong dynamics and relationships. 

Lester’s blog postings are always just as thoughtful.  In a recent one he examines contemporary society’s demand for role models rather than heroes as he addresses the media fallout surrounding Olympian Michael Phelps.  As ne notes, he considers his blog postings to be a form of publishing, and so one posting typically takes him 1-2 hours to complete as he rewrites.  If only we all would use that amount of time and produce such thoughtful prose.    


Why Media Seasons?

A Library MEDIA Specialist

No doubt after twenty years of being a professional librarian, I’ve been labeled “bookish” more than once.  😉   It’s really not about the books as much as stories—and readers’ connections to them – that  interest me.   That’s why I’ve had no qualms about taking on the more modern, official title of library media specialist.  Today my students have more options than ever to explore more than one version (in more than one format) of a story.  More importantly, not only can they read, view or “consume” those versions, they can create new connections that are uniquely their own and share them. 

Contemplating New Formats

No reference to seasons is complete without discussing changes.  Just as each season offers its unique qualities, so I view stories that resonate with readers when they are told and retold in multiple ways in various formats—what I call “media seasons.”  Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is perhaps the most-referenced of children’s stories.  Not only have most of us read and viewed various versions in books, film and stage, new forms of connections to the original story keep appearing as readers make meaning of some version of the original text.  I’ve even witnessed a drum and bugle corps competition entry based on the story!   

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline offers a more recent example.     My eleven-year old son, who has always been a more visual learner than I, was more interested in the graphic novel by Gaiman and P. Craig Russell.  I preferred to fill in with my own details the hauntingly dense illustrations by Dave McKean, who portrays Coraline’s eyes with a depth that the viewer cannot quite distinguish with clarity.  Henry Selick’s film, though, really enhanced our perception.  The seasons seem to blend in the film, as a harvest moon appears in the sky where Coraline’s  father has been exiled by the wife/mother, who morphs into her fairy tale witchiness.   Of course, the witch has the power to exile Coraline’s real parents to another season – the perils of winter in the snow globe.

We have loads of fun repeatedly visiting Gaiman’s webpage, as we look for the Mouse Circus.   Our mother /son exploration of these various media versions of Coraline has led us to new conversations about art and the seasons of life. 

Are Media Seasons Circular?

Seasonal paths are ultimately circular.  Whereas there is a sense of returning full circle with the natural seasons, an explorer of multiple texts related to a story is informed by each experience.   Thus, he or she is forever changed by that encounter. 

For example,  after reading Coraline my son commented that he was “a lot like Coraline.”  He made text –to- self connections about how his fears were similar to Coraline’s.  Though we don’t have a small door with a brick wall behind it, his bedroom does have a closet with doors he requests slid tightly shut every night.    

All of us family members have found humorous, creative moments to allude to my son’s “real parents” or “other parents,” particularly when there is a disagreement about tv time or homework effort.   

Are all Stories or Text fiction?

To connect reader to writer via text (whether it be in print form or another media format), fictional stories must have a kernel of truth to them.  I’ll blog another day about informational, non-fiction text.


Coraline and Ember

Just as the late winter temperatures shot up this weekend to remind me of the changing seasons, my sons and I took time to view two films based on books.  I’ve been anxiously waiting for Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, so we bought our tickets early for the local Cineplex theater.   

After  dinner and a walk with the dog through the sloshy mud of melting snow, we popped in the quick-to-video/DVD format of City of Ember.   I’m just fascinated with the book to film adapatations that occur.  For example, the film version of City of Ember remains quite true to its text beginnings.  Yet, as a reader,  I envisioned it so differently.  My imagined box was ornate rather than utilitarian.  Its disappearance occurred more gradually in my mind. 

The film Coraline also stays true to its textual beginnings as it, too, pulls us into the story as reader/viewer.  Of course, Gaiman’s visual renderings through words lay the groundwork.  We are treated with the mice, and those deliciously poetic words.

Since I first read Coraline a few years ago, I’ve been able to follow some of its progress to film via Gaiman’s awesome webpage at  .  I hope he always posts his photograph holding the oddly human-shaped tomato.  Somehow, it so aptly sums up his ability to take the ordinary and make it extra-ordinary.  Of course, the red object somehow draws our attention away from the creator—just as Gaiman’s characters capture our interest.