The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

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In 2014, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County selected local author Kate Hattemer’s debut novel The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy for their On The Same Page program, a yearly opportunity for the community to read the same book. This actually took place back in the fall so I realize I’m a little late, but as the saying goes “better late than never”.

I admit I am a little older than what might be considered the target audience for this novel; however, I think the Library knows (and therefore didn’t have a problem selecting this book) that YA novels aren’t just for YA’s anymore.

From the point of view of someone that hasn’t been a teenager in a while, I love the way Hattemer makes her protagonist, Ethan Andrezejczak, both endearing and annoying.  He is an art student at Selwyn Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota – a school that specializes in art education and hosts a reality television show For Art’s Sake, a show I would call a cross between The Real World and American Idol.  His teen angst takes center stage during much of the novel; however, the plot takes the shape of a humorous mystery or thriller – on a teenage level.

The humor is wonderful throughout the book but one chapter is exceptionally brilliant.  While Ethan and his friend Luke sit in calculus class, they discuss the events of the last day while making the teacher think they are discussing calculus.  The reader knows that when the conversation switches mid-sentence to calculus it’s because the teacher is walking suspiciously in Ethan and Luke’s direction.

Hattemer manages to strike the right balance between not denying that teenagers have hormones but presenting them with hearts and minds, as well.  Inspired by the poetry of Ezra Pound, Ethan and his friends set out to right some injustices they discover about the reality show taking place at their school.  Along the way, they learn more about their friendships and themselves.

It would probably come as a surprise to most that a gerbil named Baconnaise saves the day. It would probably come as even more of a surprise that, in the story, it pretty much works.

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The Tree of Here by Chaim Potok

I read The Tree of Here, the second children’s book written by Chaim Potok.  I read The Sky of Now earlier this year.  Since both of these books are out of print, I appreciate The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for hanging on to these.  He’s been one of my favorite authors for most of my adult life, and while his novels have had more of an impact on me, I have always been curious about these two kids’ books.

The Tree of Here

The Tree of Here is the story of Jason who finds out he is moving from his current home (which isn’t exactly specified) to Boston.  He goes through typical emotions of a young boy having to leave his house and friends behind.  He talks to the dogwood tree in his front yard.  And since it’s a kids’ book, it’s no problem for the dogwood tree to talk back.  Jason takes a small dogwood sapling to his new home (it also talks to him on the ride to Boston).

Both of Potok’s kids’ books are subtle and sweet.  I’m glad I read them.  He has two non-fiction books that could be interesting (they may be out of print also):  The Gates of November and Wanderings: A History of the Jews.  

Potok is mostly known for his novels.  I’m curious if anybody out there has read his non-fiction?

 

Hearing John Green…

The last time I attended a literary event with Daughter, The Eldest, was in the summer of 2007 when she was eleven and we went to Barnes and Noble at midnight to get  Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.  She’s now almost 17 and last night we went to hear “rock star” YA novelist John Green speak at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for the beginning of Teen Reading Awareness Week.

I read Green’s The Fault In Our Stars earlier this fall and consider it one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.  I’ve heard great things about his novels all over the blogosphere but did not realize exactly how popular he is.  He spoke for about an hour and then at 8:00 pm signed books.  He graciously said he would stay until all books were signed.  They called people by letters of the alphabet.  My daughter had M and it was just after 10:30 pm when she got her book signed.

The crowd intrigued me.  The majority of the audience consisted of teenagers with a few parents (who seemed to also be fans) scattered throughout.  I would definitely describe the teenagers as “bookish” and being bookish myself, I only say this with the best of compliments.  Green mentioned that today’s teenagers read more than past teen generations.  I would probably agree with him after last night.  After he spoke, and everyone was waiting for their letters to be called, the teenagers mingled about, formed groups, socialized – and pulled out books and read!  And it was absolutely socially acceptable!  Where were these kids when I was in high school?

Green was incredibly charasmatic and funny.  One of his topics dealt with why do people read books.  He commented that human beings are really bad at putting themselves in other people’s shoes.  Books give a glimpse into the lives of other people, give insights into how other people think, and put readers into other times and other worlds.  One idea he brought up that I’ve been mulling over ever since is his thought that the reader is just as much a part of the creative process as the author.  The way a reader’s brain processes what they read brings them into something that is bigger than themselves.  As an avid reader, I’ve had similar thoughts over the years, but have never quite been able to put them into words the way Green did.

When asked with what author would he like to collaborate, he first replied with the question “Can he be dead”?  When the audience gave him a collective “yes”, he blurted out Toni Morrison.  He quickly clarified that she was neither dead nor a “he”.

If there was a book that he would read three times in row, it would be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  He mentioned Fitzgerald and Gatsby several times.  He indicated he was not good at writing fantasy or science fiction, even though he has tried.  When asked if he would write screenplays for his novels, he replied that was something at which he was not very adept, either, unlike Steven Chbosky, whose The Perks of Being a Wallflower Green complimented as a “very good book and a very good film”.

While not getting into the nitty-gritty of politics, he stressed the need for everyone to vote if they were old enough.  I was most glad for my daughter to hear his message of teenagers thinking through their life and world and figuring out how to best be a part of it.  The most political statement he made was that he didn’t like Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged or he at least did not like her conclusions to the questions she poses in her novel.  At the same time, he gave kudos to kids he knows who have read this thousand-page novel and thought through the philosophical ideas contained in it.  I haven’t read this novel, myself, but it’s on my Classics Club list.  Ultimately, Green gave a considerable amount of credit, and rightly so from my experience with my daughter and some of her friends, to the ability of teenagers today to be informed, think through problems, and come to their own conclusions.  I’m reminded of the lyrics sung by David Bowie (to whom my kids would say “who”?) in his song Changes:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Library Memories: The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

In 2006, I moved to Northern Kentucky of the Greater Cincinnati Area.  For a couple of years, I made the trek across the river via the Brent Spence bridge to work in downtown Cincinnati.  One of my first tasks outside of work was to find the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.  A couple of blocks away, I was pleased to find it to be a large building that spanned two blocks with the magazine area crossing over 9th Street.  It reminded me of the Atrium at Circle Center Mall in Indianapolis.  While most libraries have a drive-up drop-off to return books, CPL also has a drive-up to pick up books.

A sculpture of giant books with a waterfall graces the entrance on Vine St.  Inside, the building has three floors.  Taking stairs or elevators to the second floor, crossing through the magazine area, then taking a spiral staircase back to the first floor brings you to the children’s section.  The second floor has a huge computer lab that is continuously utilized by thousands of patrons.

I discovered an interesting aspect of CPL when I was looking for a copy of Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons for my book club (which was still in Indianapolis).  The on-line catalogue stated that CPL had the book and that it was in.  It also had a message that said to see the Information Desk.  This was the first of many times in which I requested an either out-of-print or obscure book from the Information Desk and they brought it up from what I imagined to be a dark and dusty basement.  I’m glad they were able to keep these books as opposed to throwing them away.  My imagination would sometimes get the better of me in wondering what kind of secret place these books were kept.

For a brief time, I worked in Blue Ash (north side of Cincy) and became a regular visitor of it’s branch.  While I was working here, a colleague of mine was listening to a group called The Little Willies.  After listening for a while, we figured out many of the lead vocals were by Norah Jones.  Not thinking I would be able to find this music on CD at the library, I looked it up any way.  Sure enough, there it was at the Blue Ash branch.  I picked it up at lunch and enjoyed listening to it for several weeks.

My favorite part of the downtown branch of CPL was the reading garden.  Set up with garden tables and chairs, trees and fountains, while the weather was warm (and sometimes when it wasn’t), I would spend several lunch hours a week there, getting away from the hectic grind.  What I liked best about the garden was the tall vine covered brick wall that surrounded it, keeping out the busyness of downtown.

I stopped working in downtown Cincy in 2009.  Since then, I haven’t been as frequent of visitor to CPL.  There are still a few out-of-print books that they have that I want to get.  Two of them are childrens books written by Chaim Potok:  The Tree of Here and The Sky of Now.  I’ve looked for these books for years and could never find them, then one day I looked on-line at CPL and there they were with the message “See Information Desk”.

Here’s one last picture:  Baseball and books – what could be better?