LIS 7220 – The Family Romanov

Since I studied history for my undergraduate major, I relish the opportunity to write a post on one of the historical non-fiction works for this week.

I liked that the book connected the concurring histories of the final ruling Romanov family and their demise, and the restlessness of their subjects and the lead up to the Russian Revolution, to tell the story of how Russia went from being an autocracy to a democracy to another autocracy, the early Soviet Union.  The author didn’t burden the reader with lengthy tangents or complex vocabulary.  Additionally, the narrative is interspersed with excerpts from contemporary (or “primary,” as is known in the business) sources to further illuminate the story the book tells.  Not only is the narrative accessible, by virtue of its use of documents and photographs to support the narrative, it’s properly researched history.

A possible red flag concerns the photographs of Rasputin’s cadaver and the room where the Romanovs died.  The necessary maturity needed to stomach these parts of the history, much less the photos, is clear.  On the same token, this is history, truthfully represented without sugar-coating or embellishment.  In light of school curricula altered pursuant to either moral or political agendas (not unlike Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen), young adults need more literature like this book.  History can be age-appropriate (in terms of readability), but it can also be truly represent its topic, and this book is a perfect example.

LIS 7220 – Noggin

Note: Since I moderated a book club discussion of this work for class, I considered it only fitting to write a blog post on it here, especially since the author, John Corey Whaley, and I had a Twitter conversation about it.

We read Noggin for the week we discussed science fiction, although this is a story seems like science fiction in simply the premise of the story.  It takes place in a modern, realistic Kansas City, MO setting, and the main character is a 16-year-old who has recently been re-awoken after five years of dormant cryogenic hibernation, then receiving a donated body to replace his former cancerous one.  In the world of Noggin, transplanting bodies in this manner is an actual procedure, the protagonist, Travis Coates, being only the 2nd survivor of this procedure.  While the book doesn’t tell us in great anatomical detail how the procedure works or why it succeeded, Travis nonetheless gets a second chance at life.

Except he’s been practically dead for 5 years, his best friend is in college, and his former girlfriend is now engaged to another guy.  So his resurrection is where the fun starts.

There’s a lot that young adults can find pleasurable, if not relatable, in this work.  The book again demonstrates the strength of first-person narration, in creating a multidimensional protagonist who stops at nothing to get Cate back, which seems natural for a 16-year-old who has missed out on the last 5 years, even if it borders on the obsessive.  He wants his old life back, even though this is impossible, and he struggles to realize this.  But such a lesson is a tough one for any teenager undergoing a radical life change to learn.  As we soon discover, Travis is forced to learn this axiom the hard way, especially in light of learning of his parents’ divorce.

Thus, while the body transplant exemplifies the author’s intention to channel his “inner Vonnegut” and “ground something absurd in reality,” (see his Tweet regarding this: the story becomes believable, and has a quality narrative, because of the after effects of this procedure, as well as the youth and humanity of the main character.  Kurt Vonnegut was forever a master at incorporating the absurd into realistic fiction, but perhaps Whaley is a member of the latest generation of this writing, as well as a forerunner of this within young adult literature.  I can’t wait to read more.

LIS 7220 – Fangirl

This was the first book I ever completed as an e-book, much less on an iPad, so accordingly, this blog post is also written on an iPad.  The main takeaway from this experience was the convenience of borrowing the book from a cloud-based server, plus being able to control the font size and not having the physical book laying around for my chew-happy puppy to find.  But I can now say I’m an e-book fan.

Fangirl certainly qualifies a new adult novel, since most characters are in their late teens and early 20s, although the sexuality in action is implied rather than actual.  Drama, however, is in no short supply: Cath not fitting in, Wren’s emerging alcoholism, their father’s workaholic tendencies, etc.  The reader witnesses the internal drama of Cather as she quite negatively mulls the prospect of her and Wren’s mother coming back into their lives.  And why shouldn’t she?  More on that later…

I can understand why this book would pale in comparison to a work like Eleanor and Park, although that can best be explained as Eleanor and Park being hard to follow in terms of literary achievement.  This is not to say, however, that Fangirl is without achievement.  It captures the essence of first-year undergraduate culture, especially living in the dorms and moving away from home for the first time.  And as many find first (real) love in college, the book also captures this phenomena successfully.  Additionally, the book opens up the world of fan-fiction for the reader to see.  For young adults who are fanfic enthusiasts, this book is an affirmation; for those on the outside looking in, it makes the mystery of fanfic understandable.

The book may be slow and non-exciting in parts, but in terms of capturing the lingering effects of parental abandonment in childhood, Rainbow Rowell is a master.  Ask anyone who experienced this, including myself.  This takes years of healing to recover from, if at all, which is why any parent who does this to a child at any age is a coward.


Do you see her?
Her silver dress glimmers in the flashing lights
Her hair moves side-to-side in concert with her hips
The dress hugs them like a coat of paint on a wall
Fitting her form perfectly and without objection
Her eyes betray her desire
She wants to dance
She wants you

She’s on her feet
Waiting for you to leave that chair
Leave that table
Leave that whiskey-ginger
You’re the man of her dreams
Her knight in shining armor
If for the length of a song or two

You rise and you take her hand
And you both part the sea of people
And blend into the crowd
Engaged in kinetic orgy
Hips and feet and hearts and minds
The fast beat of the dubstep
Blaring out of the speakers
The DJ controlling every beat

And you submit to the rhythm
The music is now your master
Your reason to live, your soulmate
It completes you
It is your religion
A new cult, a new way of life
You worship the beat to which you

©2015 by Billy Hinshaw – all rights reserved.

LIS 7220 – The Story of Owen

I found this a fun read!  It was a breath of fresh air from my heretofore conception of fantasy fiction as existing in a medieval world, and I found it an enjoyable story.  Others may also find it enjoyable as well, regardless of whether one also accounts for the book’s political subtext.

One thing I think the book hit out of the park was the setting.  Imagine taking the everyday modernity of rural Ontario, and adding to reality’s equation these carnivorous and stupid creatures known as dragons, simple as that.  And there exists a science to thwarting death by dragon that has been tested and proven over history (i.e. not idling the car for heat, not having bonfires, not starting an automobile company), because dragons are as clear and present of a danger as touching electrical wires without rubber gloves or getting into a motorcycle crash without a helmet.  This story was clearly different from dragon tales taking place in a medieval fantasy, but it kept me reading.

Additionally, a young adult reader may find interesting the main characters going off to slay dragons by night, and running to and from classes in school, trying not to be late, trying to study for that big quiz, what a life!  How cool would it be sixteen and have a job as a songwriter for an up-and-coming dragon-slayer?  Better yet, what if you got to hang out with a girl like Siobhan with an ear for music composition, providing a companionship independent of clichéd teenage romance and thus free of complication?  Nay, it is possible for teenage boys and girls to have a platonic relationship. (You listening, Travis Coates?)

Now, about the whole “socialist tract” thing: I’m not a political activist, and I tend to ignore any hidden meaning in literature, since I read fiction for the entertainment of a good story.  Looking back at the text, it’s hard to deny the allusions to climate change and industrialism, the alternate histories in which dragons play a pivotal role, or that Lottie and Hannah, Owen’s guardians, are a same-sex couple, and nobody cares.  Nonetheless, I found it a good story to read, and I’m not arguing that climate change, international relations, or marriage equality are not important issues to discuss or follow, or that I ignore them completely.  As a consumer of literature, I’m simply asserting my right to enjoy a good story, all these aspects notwithstanding.  If that makes me a less-than-critical reader, so be it.

LIS 7220 – The Fault in Our Stars

I admit I saw the movie before reading the book, so I had a cinematic head start.  I knew all about the story of Hazel and Gus, that Gus would ultimately succumb to the cancer that took his leg, and that he would leave her with a happy memory of him more permanent than life itself, just as Gus wished.

Although the movie influenced my concretization of the story, and its action and characters, I read the book anyway to witness John Green’s literature, and I fell right into its verisimilitude.  I enjoyed the book, and found it to be a very quality work.  The reader glimpses cancer, a very real and unpredictable problem, but is not buried with academic explanations of it.  Hazel explains and relates the cancer accompanying her and how she copes with it on a daily basis, and it influences her approach to life, sarcastic and even sometimes nihilistic, not only with her reluctance to attend a cancer support group, but also with her opinion of life as imminent oblivion, which contrasts Augustus’s desire for legacy.  Green could have kept the narrative for himself in third-person, and would have needed more exposition than necessary or proper.  That he lets Hazel tell the story adds to the power of the book, and it works better for the book, espeically as a work of young-adult fiction.

The book is a serious albeit empowering read, as it reflects characters who daily confront their own mortality and fragility.  This lends itself to the characters’ dialogue, which ranges from literary to philosophical, and may strike readers as implausible, since Hazel and Gus are both teenagers.  However, this reflects the condition of being biologically young yet psychologically old.  An aged soul also comes with growing up in a broken home (like Eleanor in Eleanor and Park), trying to survive in the wilderness after a plane crash (like Brian Robeson in Hatchet), or being an orphan and an ostracized member of society (like Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders).  This motif frequently recurs in young-adult literature, and having grown up with an abusive father and being bullied in school, this is exactly how the book resonated with me.  I came away from the book longing to know Hazel as a real person, to share in both her grief of losing Gus, and her joy in remembering his legacy, which is all he ever wanted.

And in the end, Gus gets his wish.


Post Update – 6 April 2014

Hello, world.

So I have been relatively silent on here recently. There are a few reasons.

One reason is that I’ve had so many different ideas for posts, and have been rushing onto WordPress to start them, and preserve them for future postings as blog posts. The problem is, now I have a handful of unfinished posts that I just need to finished. I currently count four that I need to finish at some point.

Another reason is that the past month was a busy time for me. I turned 25, went through a quarter-life crisis with my choice of librarianship as a career, but then ended up in Vegas, which was fun, and then re-solidified my professional intentions. Now we’re back to normal, albeit more clear.

And, well, things have been crazy busy at the law firm where I work, as you can see.

One final excuse is how introverted and reclusive I tend to be nowadays.  It came down on me like a ton of fucking bricks the past month.  But now I’m fine.

And the posts will keep coming.


Books vs. E-Readers? Arguments for both

One recurring (and recurring and recurring and recurring…ugh…) topic of discussion within library circles is the longevity of library resources in paper format.  In other words, how long are books going to be around?  And what impact does this have on libraries?

Since e-books rose in popularity less than a decade ago, there has been an increase in the desire for books to be published in electronic format, in addition to the customarily bound paper volume in hardcover, paperback, leaked Word doc (oops), etc.  Whether it’s Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or any number of model made by Sony, this manner of reading has revolutionized mass consumption of reading material.  Even certain textbooks are becoming digital, alleviating the need to lug that 300-ton backpack around anymore.  E-books and e-readers are definitely popular electronics.  According to the Pew Research Center, one in every two adults now owns either a tablet or e-reader.

This begs the question: if we have books available in e-reader format, then what’s the point of publishing a physical book anymore?  While it’s physically impossible for someone to literally carry around 100 books of whatever shape and size, one e-reader can carry more than 100 books as electronic files.  I can also download an e-book with the click of a mouse, without the need for going to a bookstore or a library.  In the off chance that I decide to dabble in 50 Shades of Grey readership (which, for this author, is less likely than me taking a trip to Mars anytime soon), I can read it on the bus or on a park bench or at McDonald’s without getting weird looks from people.  No paper, no sore backs, no judgmental people.  Cool, huh?

So why do we need books?  Moreover, why do we even need libraries?

When you think about it, though, any of the advantages to e-readers are for convenience’s sake.  Faster, cheaper, and more, right?  However, the argument that e-readers will overthrow books and lead to the demise of libraries makes some assumptions.  Firstly, it assumes that people can afford to purchase an e-reader, and to purchase e-books as they feel led.  Believe it or not, some people can’t afford home access to the Internet, much less an e-reader or the ability to buy books at a whim.  Secondly, it assumes that e-readers are user-friendly and easy to figure out how to use.  Let’s face it: there are people in this world who completely suck at using technology, and always will.  E-readers are no exception.  Finally, technology updates itself every 3 seconds, which makes things difficult if e-book files are incompatible with your e-reader because it’s too old.  And vice versa.  Hell, there are certain computer games from the early 90s that people can’t play on a Windows 7 machine anymore.

Funny thing is, not only are regular, physical books still relevant, but so are libraries.  Pew Research Center tells us so, and another thing it tells us is that the last thing people want is the removal of books from public library spaces.  The public library still has a major impact on the community, and is still regarded as a safe place for kids to go, for which mothers thank you.

And whither physical books?

Well, let’s think about this logically.  E-readers are less than a quarter-century old in their ubiquitousness, and yet books have been in continuous existence and usage for nearly 600 years.  Secondly, books are insanely easy to use: open the book, make sure the book is right-side up, read the page, turn the page and read the next one, until you finish reading the book.  Simple as that.  Thirdly, books are less expensive in the long run.  Maybe that $17 brand-new hardcover John Grisham novel is a little out of your price range yet, but either you can check it out from the library, or wait until the mass-market paperback comes out for $8 or so, or even better yet, wait for the hardcover to appear in a second-hand bookstore for even less expensive.  That’s not something you can do with e-books (at least, not all the time and not legally).  Physical books are also less expensive for physical libraries: what you lack in space, you make up for by paying a one-time charge for the book, ever.  By way of contrast, libraries purchase not an e-book itself for public usage, but a license to allow the book to be checked out, without ever owning the book.  And why?  Well…you can blame publishing companies for that, at least for now and at least most of them.  (If you click on the link and read the article, you’ll see that Simon and Schuster is trying to help.  There is some good in this world.)

If you own an e-reader, good for you.  I’m slightly inclined to buy one myself, but just because I tire of most people asking me, “Whatcha readin’?”  Keep in mind, though, that e-readers are not replacing books anytime soon (if at all).  Both are going to be around for a long time.  And that’s a good thing, because there’s nothing better than free choice.

The Ukrainian Crisis explained

The library theme of this blog notwithstanding, my undergraduate background in international relations has been itching to come out and play, given the situation with Russia and Ukraine.  Click here for the latest from BBC World News.

The Ukraine and Russia have an interesting history of relations.  To keep things modern (and without delving too far back into history to discuss, say, Kievan Rus), as most people know, Ukraine was part of the former USSR, and declared independence in 1991 upon the crumble of said USSR.  Easy enough, right?  Well, not really…

There are two things that make this pretty complicated.  Firstly, the current state of Ukraine is approximately 75% Ukrainian and 25% Russian.  When Ukraine declared independence, the 75% Ukrainian population rejoiced, while the 25% Russian population was not such a big fan.  Neither was Russia a big fan of them declaring independence either, due to the Russians living in Ukraine.  Even Russians living abroad (albeit in exile), such as the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn, wasn’t a big fan of it.  On the same token, Russia is usually pretty sensitive about its nationals living abroad, as well as those it considers its allies (although it can complicate things, such as the Syrian crisis or Serbia with regards to Kosovo).  It’s kind of the same type of nerves US states with their residents living in Texas would have if Texas were to follow through with its secession threats from 2012.  Simply put: Russia is worried about its Russians.

Secondly–and the main reason why Russia is currently worried about its Russians in Ukraine–Ukraine has had a volatile political environment and culture since its independence.  Ukraine’s presidents have been consistently accused of corruption, which has led to not one, but two abdications of power by the president.  But, this isn’t really specific to Ukraine by any means: in reality, Ukraine, much like any of the former SSRs who knew nothing of democracy or a free-market economy prior to the 1990s, is experiencing similar growing pains.  (Believe it or not, Russia is also part of this group.)  So, Ukraine is still trying to find its feet with regards to maintaining a stable democratic society.  

As an aside, Americans might look at this and say, “Man, are these people screwed up!  Why the hell can’t they figure things out, like we have?”  Well, first off, Ukraine has only been a unitary republic since 1991, and secondly, the US has been a republic for 238 years, and it still hasn’t figured things out!

Finally, and here’s where some intense international relations lingo comes into play, Russia is what’s known as a regional hegemon.  In other words, Russia wants to use its status as a military, economic and geographic power to control the countries around it.  It worked with Finland throughout the Cold War.  However, it’s a lot easier said than done, given that similar things can be said for China, India, Turkey, the European Union, and even the United States.  Nonetheless, when Russia wants to create de facto control over Ukraine–by virtue of Ukraine neighboring Russia, as well as most of Russia’s gas pipelines going through Ukraine and Russia providing foreign aid to Ukraine.  Nonetheless, this hegemony has its rivals.  That Ukrainian/Russian split I mentioned before?  Well, the Western half of Ukraine leans more towards the policies of the West (e.g. the US and the European Union), whereas the Eastern half (where most of Ukraine’s Russians also live) tends to lean towards Russia.  So not only is there is polarization coming externally from Russia, but also internally from the division of its people towards hegemonic devotion.

When all this adds up, we have Russia mobilizing its troops into the Crimea, Ukraine mobilizing its troops in response, and the whole world now watching to see what Russia does.  This type of thing happened most recently in 2008 with the South Ossetian crisis between Russia and Georgia.  The responsibility for what happens next is shared: Russia is responsible for how it uses its hegemonic power, Ukraine is responsible for how it responds to Russia, and the rest of the world is responsible for how it perceives the crisis.