24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Author: abbyrhargreaves (page 1 of 13)

Show Off: Books to Make You LOL

I love using obscure “holidays” to pick a book display theme. When I found out March 19th was National Let’s Laugh Day, I had just the thing for it: humorous young adult materials for the month’s display. I admit, I’m usually not one to pick up well on humor in writing (in senior AP English, Candide‘s humor went way over my head). But it was easy enough to pull out a few books thanks to the organization of the library catalog.

Like in past displays, I used simple, printed bookmarks to remind anyone looking at the display that books on display can be checked out.

Different kinds of humor were incorporated in the selection of books. I’m a big fan of the very smart and biting humor of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart and the sometimes-sad, but super honest humor of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

The library’s OverDrive collection also had a humor section, which allowed me to direct those who were interested to similar digital titles via the display explanation sign. It was super fun to incorporate a well-beloved emoji into the display, too (I know it’s probably one of the ones I use most frequently).

What are some books that tickle your funny bone?

Abby Reads: The Beast Is an Animal by Peternelle Van Arsdale

The Beast Is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017, 352 pages
Fantasy

With a dark and witchy feel akin to the Salem Witch Trials, The Beast Is an Animal is a debut novel by Peternelle van Arsdale (and what a name — both the title and author!). I first heard of the YA fantasy in an episode of Book Riot’s All the Books with Liberty Hardy and Rebecca Schinsky and it sounded amazing. After two sisters and their mother are banished from a town for suspicion of witchcraft, the town feels the effects. Years later, seven-year-old Alys is found wandering in the fields by a traveler. When he returns her to her home, he finds her parents — along with all townsfolk over the age of fifteen — have perished. Alys and her young townmates are adopted by families in a nearby town, but the suspicion grows over the newcomers and Alys, especially. While Alys resists the pull of the two sisters who have found their way into her life, she must reconcile her murderous feelings with her love for her adoptive family.

The Beast Is an Animal begins with a fascinating and atmospheric concept, but it’s an atmosphere that just can’t be sustained for hundreds of pages — at least, not the way van Arsdale tells it. Alys spends a good portion (nearly half) of the book as a child and, consequently, her thoughts and understanding of the world around her are limited by experience and knowledge. Though there is so much potential to dive into various ideas about human nature and cruelty, van Arsdale can barely scratch the surface with her young character. Even as Alys ages, something about her lack of exposure to the world outside her village seems to limit her ability to consider the deeper implications of her actions and the actions of those around her.

Van Arsdale is, perhaps, just being subtle. There are moments in the novel that reach a deeper understanding and payoffs here and there. These often come in the form of meticulous prose. As a book editor by trade, van Arsdale’s strength is very obviously in the language, which is fairly consistently beautiful, interesting, and haunting. Her prose, however, cannot carry the basic lack of plot alone. Though Alys clearly has a predicament, what she really wants is unclear throughout the novel. A last-minute love interest seems to be a thing of plot convenience and motivation more than something natural, and Alys hardly has enough personality to warrant a realistic relationship.

Alys isn’t alone in having little personality. Few characters in the book do, the primary of which being Pawl, who discovers her as a young girl wandering in the fields. It is later in the novel, especially, that he and his wife feature in an especially poignant way, driven by their taste for alcohol and drunkenness. This particular trait makes Pawl one of the most interesting characters as it is so at odds with his cheery personality. Not many characters qualify as prime players — instead, a blurry mish-mash of villagers make up the antagonistic forces in Alys’s life, along with the sisters and the beast itself, who, while a fascinating idea, is not well developed and instead rather superficial and without much impact.

Ultimately, van Arsdale has something here, both in concept and in ability to write. The Beast Is an Animal falls short with a plot that doesn’t stand strong in its structure nor urges readers forward with momentum, purpose, or stakes. My expectations for The Beast Is an Animal — and I still can’t get over that striking title — were, admittedly, high. This might be better read around Halloween and might even make a fascinating class assignment alongside The Crucible or A Break with Charity. Fans of All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry might find similar elements in The Beast Is an Animal and enjoy it, to an extent, but van Arsdale’s first attempt is not quite a hit.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby

Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016, 304 pages
Realistic Fiction

In Some of the Parts, younger sister Tallie has only just begun grieving the death of her older brother. Wracked with guilt from being the driver of the car in which he was in at the time of his death, Tallie has not only lost her brother, but lost her parents to their own grief and her good friend who had just started a relationship with her brother at the time of his death. As she gets to know the new boy in school, Chase, Tallie must confront her own grief and begin to function again or she risks losing more. But it’s harder to let go when she discovers her brother might not be as gone as she thought. Hannah Barnaby paints a painfully realistic picture of a girl who has lost her brother at an age that is too young to experience such pain, but too old to not understand it.

I sought out Hannah Barnaby at an event in Arlington in September 2016, just a few weeks after my own brother died in a car crash. After the talk she gave with another author, I rushed up to her and told her my own story and that I had written a similar story in college, never knowing what was in my future. Barnaby graciously signed the copy I bought from her and later got in touch with me on Twitter to check in with me. I wasn’t able to actually read the book for another seven months, but when I did, I was amazed.

Barnaby so acutely describes what has been my experience around grief and sibling loss. Although my brother was not an organ donor and I did not cause his death, Tallie and I have much else in common in how we handle or don’t handle our grief. The accuracy Barnaby pins the story with can be painful in spots, particularly for those who have been there, but is a rare and excellent thing to encounter, especially for those who are trying to understand and empathize with a character or individual who has had such an experience.

Beyond the specific concept of sibling grief, Barnaby handles the other aspects of the lives of her characters with striking realism. This helps ground the overall plot from being pure emotion and chaos, but can sometimes make following relationships a challenge. Tallie, of course, has school friends and acquaintances, all of which are affected by her grief and potentially their own grief over the loss of their friend. Because it’s unclear how big a part any one character will play at any given time (something that also increases the realism), it’s hard to tell which characters deserve the most attention. A naturally flowing timeline adds to the realism, as does  a commitment to providing an ending that is not overly kitschy or predictable.

As a character and narrator, Tallie leans toward the mature with an adult lilt and a willingness to use SAT words in the everyday situation. She’s observant and often self-aware, though not always in the ways she needs to be. Tallie was a person before this event which tore apart her life, and glimpses of that person make her a fascinating character who is affected by her grief but who is not, necessarily, her grief itself. On the flip side, Barnaby shows grief acting in different ways with different people. Not one of the affected characters respond in the same way, and even when they do, it is often for different reasons. Barnaby has a great grasp on each of her characters, making Some of the Parts all the more enjoyable and important.

The story is somewhat too neat by the end, with a suggestion that now that Tallie has gotten over the hump of her grief, she will return to a normal and happy life. The reality is, Tallie will likely return to her grief which will appear in different shapes throughout her life. While that might be too realistic and too grim, I was disappointed to see it left out (at least from my perspective).

Ultimately, I’m so grateful for Some of the Parts. It articulated much of my early months of grief in a way that I could not at the time and can’t now, because the form of my own grief has changed so much. This could not have been an easy book to write and despite this, Barnaby did not make sacrifices in quality just to tell an important story. It’s well-rounded in nearly every way and a great story for those who have not lost a sibling as much as it is for those who have.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah Maas
Bloomsbury USA, 2017, 707 pages
Fantasy

With Feyre back in the confines of the prison that is Tamlin’s mansion, she and the Night Court crew are working on a scheme to get her out and back to the fae she now knows as her mate, Rhysand. It’s not long until the impulsive Feyre is slashing throats and taking names in an aim to escape, but old friendships cause a hindrance and family is now at once both more and less than it once was. Feyre must adjust to her new role as High Lady of the Night Court while still figuring out her new physical self, first discovered at the end of A Court of Thorns and Roses. Sarah Maas brings the motley group to a roaring crescendo as they fight for their lives in A Court of Wings and Ruin.

Like the two previous novels in the series, Wings and Ruin is slow in places. With infighting, particularly now that Feyre’s sisters are present to provide an additional point of view, plenty of scenes are taken up by simple back-and-forth conversations, often rehashing long-made decisions as small pieces of information appear to the High Lord and his “family.” Lucien, who is caught between a long-time friendship and alliance with Tamlin and his affection for Feyre, provides yet another perspective that demands reckoning as the various sides approach a battle, if not a full on war. As other courts become involved, war strategizing becomes the bulk of the plot leading up to the few battles themselves, which can make the prose drag at a hefty 707 pages.

These conversations and the plot of the book itself means there are new characters and returning acquaintances to keep track of. Complicating the new roll call is the fact that these characters are building political relationships with each other and, as those occasionally fall out or fall in for one reason or another, it means taking note of these and remembering the status of each relationship can be a challenge.

Maas gets a bit dramatic in Wings and Ruin, which might help with some of the more monotonous scenes, but more often than not leads to passages that just feel overwritten and insincere. With Feyre as narrator, Maas has to find new ways to make the readers love Rhys as much as Feyre does, leading to some slightly awkward and overdone phrases that just don’t feel genuine or are otherwise so invasive that it feels ridiculous rather than sexy.

But this isn’t to say the whole book is a loss. To the contrary, it’s a fun read, even if it’s not my favorite of the series. A Court of Mist and Fury was, to my mind, superior to Wings and Ruin with more obvious conflict and, of course, the building tension between Rhys and Feyre sustaining much of the plot. Wings and Ruin doesn’t have the benefit of that so much — and Maas didn’t quite reach her potential with the lovers’ separation — but it does have moments that are truly exciting and ultimately propel the story forward.

Picking this up, I was under the impression that the series was over. Certainly by the end, all of the large conflicts have been resolved in one way or another, perhaps to or not to the characters’ satisfactions. Even Tamlin has a fascinating scene toward the end that bumps up the quality of the book significantly and perhaps gives a sneak peek as to what Maas is really capable of (and, having returned to the Throne of Glass series a few times after originally disliking it, I think Maas has a whole lot of potential we haven’t seen yet, but that will build of the years into something quite impressive).

As the novel truly came to a close, however, I felt some things were unresolved. I’m unsure if there’s another to come in A Court of series or if we should expect some spinoffs, but I’m doubtful that this is the last we’ll truly see of Feyre and the troop. In fact, Maas has teasingly noted that a crossover between her two series wouldn’t be impossible. Given than Throne of Glass is the larger epic and as of yet unfinished, I’m left wondering if we can perhaps expect an appearance of our favorite Court in a pivotal moment for Celaena and friends in Throne of Glass.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
Three Rivers Press, 2014, 304 pages
Travel Memoir

Drawing from the same well of humor that provides lines for shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Kristin Newman brings her international travel stories to the page in What I Was Doing while You Were Breeding. After several failed relationships, Newman sets out on many trips betweenWhat I Was Doing while You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman show writing season and pursues short-term flings with whatever local men are available — or not — in the places she visits, which she calls “vacationships.” While for some journeys Newman brings along a friend or two, she often travels alone throughout her twenties and thirties, allowing for plenty of opportunity for self-discovery and global awareness.

Despite Newman’s enormous privilege to do all of this traveling, she’s seemingly unaware of it. Newman regularly complains that her friends can’t join her, blind to the amount of money and time away from a regular job it takes to travel the way she does. She goes out of her way to stay at inexpensive hostels and motels, which she uses as a strategy to meet other young, single people. This leads her to make comments about the poor conditions of her stays.

Arguably worse is Newman’s tendency to engage in offhand racism (which she admits is racist, but ultimately does nothing about it and even seems to find some pride in it) and general cultural unawareness. Although Newman has these many opportunities to explore the world and learn from other cultures, she is quick to point out things that are “weird” or otherwise lesser-than her American experience. Newman eventually recounts a specific event in which she declines a date with an Asian man through a dating app simply because he is Asian. Newman has minimal shame in admitting this — and arguably none at all, given her willingness to not only tell the story once, but refer back to it once or twice in later pages. She underlines this with a few blatantly anti-Asian jokes. Asians receive the brunt of Newman’s disrespect, but her general racism is evident in phrases that suggest otherness and exoticism like “gorgeously colored people” without many other descriptors, as if their whole being is tied up in the color their skin.

Readers might expect Newman’s book to be mildly offensive, like many sitcoms are. However, her offense does not stop at racism. There are also moments of homophobia and slutshaming — even in the same breath. “The nice thing about a gay club is there is no possible way to be the sluttiest person in the room,” she writes. This is par for the course for Newman. She regularly inserts comments that slutshame, claiming it’s okay because she’s the most promiscuous person she knows, while also putting down individuals who choose a more monogamous lifestyle and even telling of instances where she tries to get those individuals to move into a lifestyle that better matches and suits hers. Newman doesn’t even pause at rape jokes.

The following paragraph contains a spoiler, if you’re concerned about that kind of thing here — and it’s a big one, but something I feel is important to discuss given everything we’ve gone over at this point.

Newman isn’t a likable person, and the unshocking ending only serves to reinforce heteronormativity and a dangerous dependency on the patriarchy. Despite Newman’s past, it is a man and her relationship with him that ultimately saves her from herself, if she chooses to view her promiscuous lifestyle as destructive (which, as an undercurrent, it seems she does). She is only “cured” of her own personality (distasteful as it may be in its racism, slutshaming, and so on) when she is essentially forced into playing the role of the wife and mother. And I’ll just add another sentence of words here so the last words don’t stand out and inadvertently spoil anyone who cares about being spoiled and mistakenly sees the last words of the actual paragraph because they’re the last words.

Okay. Spoiler over.

The one redeeming quality of Newman’s memoir is a theme she returns to regularly, though perhaps doesn’t follow as closely as she might think. Her philosophy when traveling is this: Do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. This is a bit more nuanced than “when in Rome,” I think, and provides not just for doing as the locals do, but also doing things as opportunities present themselves — as both the time and place are right to do them. And as you are right to do them. This is a great takeaway for a travel memoir, and I only wish Newman had been more conscious of herself as a representative of America in her travels and as a writer when later relating these stories.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #8, “Read a travel memoir,” and I leave it behind with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander
Penguin Books, 2004, 229 pages
Historical Fiction

Decades after the murder of the Romanovs, an elderly man previously known as the Romanov’s kitchen boy tells the family’s story to his American granddaughter through recorded tapes and sends her on a journey. With his narrative taking the the bulk of the prose, the kitchen boy The Kitchen Boy boy Robert Alexanderdescribes the final days of the Romanovs and his involvement. Rich with detail and research, The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander is a stunning look into a fictional take on the horror of the death of the Romanovs.

A brief disclaimer — anything I could say about this book won’t truly communicate what an incredible work it is. Just read it.

A framed story, most chapters describe Leonka’s experience with the Romanovs with brief passages visiting his granddaughter’s travel from America to Russia. Each moment with Leonka and his story is a gift made of a rich voice, totally formed and unique to any other narrator I’ve ever encountered. Alexander’s grasp of his character is extraordinary and is the foundation of this phenomenal book. Leonka tells his story with tension and, while the reader likely knows the fate of the Romanovs, the tension remains high throughout. Even as the reader knows death approaches, they hope for the release and survival of the Romanov family.

Alexander does take some liberties in the story — it is, at the end of the day, a fictional take on a real story. The twists that bring the story together are shocking. Alexander’s ability to mislead and redirect while maintaining a plausible narrative is another element that sets this novel apart from others. These twists are grounded in prose which is wholly immersive. Despite the very fine detail with which Alexander writes, there is never a sense of tedium or overwhelm. This style provides a story to savor and digest slowly and deliberately.

The prose also delivers wholly developed characters, from inconsequential guards to the Tsar himself. Leonka’s unique position as a family aid gives him particular insights into the family which others might be without. The culmination of these observations create a vivid look at the Romanovs as people, as captives, as royalty, as a family. Leonka himself makes for a fascinating character, particularly as the story builds and pieces of information are revealed.

The Kitchen Boy is a novel so far ahead of anything else I’ve read (at least to my memory) that I didn’t feel I deserved it. It was engaging, endlessly fascinating, fantastically clever, rich and detailed, breathtaking and more. It’s a book into which you put your time and energy, carefully chewing each sentence to get to a truly amazing center and a satisfying end that will shake and astound you. Fall into the Romanov’s story with this as a start and you’ll never want to leave that world.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Knopf, 2016, 320 pages
Fiction

Two sisters separated by social conventions and later by slavery and marriage open this long line of family stories that travel between Africa and North America in Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. Alternating between the two lines of the family, Homegoing transcends time and space as it moves through the ages, encountering culture and politics. With each chapter featuring a new small plot, the work as a whole focuses on the impact of slavery and colonialism.

Gyasi’s careful planning and mapping of her characters and plots is evident throughout the book. Though not strictly a novel, Homegoing reads like one, even with each chapter and element tied so loosely together. It is largely the attention to detail Gyasi bestows that transforms the work from simply a collection of stories to what feels and reads like a novel. At the same time, readers who prefer small bites rather than sweeping epics will see the opportunity to get the best of both worlds.

What’s interesting about seeing the generations over the years is how each family has a personality, making each line a sort of character of their own. In our own lives it can be a challenge to see beyond one or two generations, but watching personality traits and traditions get passed on is fascinating. There is not necessarily a single thread that runs through either family, but there’s a clear cause-and-effect between parents and children that appears in key ways. Gyasi knows her fictional families well, showing once again her attention to detail and planning.

In including so many individuals for such a lengthy story, however, Gyasi does fall into the trap of losing momentum. Earlier characters are much more defined than later characters are. This may be a symptom of simply getting tired of the story and losing energy or it may be the nearness. With less historical separation, Gyasi perhaps loses her ability to see characters as separate from herself. Because they are not living in such a different world than she is, she’s more able to rely on things she already knows to inform her characters, which then causes her to include fewer personal details to illustrate them. But this is only a theory.

Meanwhile, her writing style leans heavily toward the story-telling tradition, which is fitting for the African backdrop. This style also softens some of the more brutal aspects of the story — the slavery, rape, and racism that is present on both sides of the Atlantic is rarely graphic, yet Gyasi still achieves a powerful narrative. While she’s under no obligation to make these horrendous aspects of black life over history and in present, Gyasi’s prose style has that affect. Whether this is a positive or negative thing is up to the reader, and likely differs for each reader. Some may feel it was a disservice to omit the reality of these horrors, while others might feel a taste of the horror is enough to get the point across without turning readers off. I’m inclined to feel it’s somewhat a disservice, but recognize that Gyasi’s priorities may have been elsewhere.

If you’re a reader who prefers short stories or novellas to whole novels, Homegoing is a good alternative. It’s slow-moving at points, but overall captivating and an achievement in research and self-introspection. Gyasi has certainly done her ancestors proud in representing them here, as not just victims of their circumstances, but as people.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Ms. Marvel Vol 1 – No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Ms. Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
Marvel, 2014, 120 pages
Graphic Novel

Dealing with a lack of self-esteem fueled by external and internal Islamaphobia and the usual challenges of being a teenager, Kamala in Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson only wishes she could be like her heroes. When she stumbles into the appearance and powers of Ms. Marvel, she finds being a hero is a bigger challenge than she could have imagined, especially as her family begins asking questions.Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal (Ms. Marvel Series) by [Wilson, G.]

Most origin stories for superheroes involve origin stories that pull fans in with drama and excitement. Kamala’s introduction to her powers is, by contrast, anticlimactic. This is, perhaps, somewhat intentional — another highlight of how truly ordinary Kamala imagines herself to be and maybe even is. With no fascinating spider bite to explain her powers or any overly dramatic emotional baggage, Kamala encounters her new abilities as part of the every day.

Marvel superfans may find this origin story more interesting as it ties into other parts of the greater Marvel universe, but for the casual comic book or graphic novel reader with limited exposure to Marvel, the opening of Kamala’s life as a superhero is unremarkable, save for her predictable shock at her new state. This story line, however, is truly the central plot line despite its stark simplicity. Few other plots are formed or deep enough to create a robust narrative.

Meanwhile, Kamala’s family represents a set of interesting dynamics. Kamala’s mother holds strong opinions and is often hard on her daughter while the father of the family is more forgiving. With an older brother, Kamala often finds herself in competition with her sibling but also has a supporter in her brother.

Islamaphobia is one of the elements of Kamala’s life which contributes to her low self-esteem. Interestingly, the bulk of Islamaphobia featured in the graphic novel is the insidious kind. Zoe, the primary perpetrator, doesn’t seem to be consciously anti-Muslim. Instead, the Islamaphobic language she uses and suggestions she makes seems to be more of a convenient vehicle for her more general dislike of Kamala. Zoe is, to some extent, the “I’m-not-racist” racist. This is useful because readers who might not otherwise see their language and actions as racist might view their own behavior in new light thanks to Zoe’s antagonism.

Another interesting character lives in Kamala’s friend, Bruno. Despite his bad-boy skater look, Bruno is the lawful good of No Normal. Bruno expresses romantic interest in Kamala and backs those feelings up with respect and care. Though he appears in few panels, Bruno’s influence is clear in Kamala’s actions. Moments of strength sometimes seem to come from memories of Bruno’s kindness and integrity.

No Normal isn’t my style, but works as an introduction to the world of superheroes, particularly for girls who may feel intimidated by the genre. With a sketchy illustration style, Kamala’s story is just beginning and future volumes are sure to grow in excitement.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #18, Read a superhero comic with a female lead,” and I leave it behind with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece by John Pfordresher

The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece  by John Pfordresher
W. W. Norton & Company, 2017, 256 pages
Literary Criticism/Biography

In The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece by John Pfordresher, the Georgetown University professor posits that Jane Eyre is a largely autobiographical work written in response to an affair that wasn’t in Brontë’s life. I came upon The Secret History of Jane Eyre through an event at the Arlington Public Library in Arlington, VA in September 2017. The library would host Pfordresher in his lecture on the book at the Central Library. I read the book in preparation for the event and was gravely disappointed. Reader, it was absurd.

While I no doubt agree that writers inform their work with their personal lives, claiming that Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre are the same is ludicrous. In my years of English classes — including a Bachelor’s degree in English from Hollins University and, too, a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from San José State University for which I further examined literature from a scholarly perspective — I likely fell into the trap of comparing the author to the narrator or main character. I can’t recall a particular time I might have done this, but I am certain it was whipped out of me quickly. Ascribing intent, as Pfordresher does here, in a writer’s work is literary criticism suicide. We can, by all means, suggest that a piece of literature can be read in such-in-such a way or that a piece of literature can be interpreted thusly, but to straight out assert that Jane is Charlotte and vice versa is a leap most educators would not find acceptable in a midterm paper, let alone a published work. I happen to agree.

On top of a rather ridiculous premise, Pfordresher fails to really support his ideas. Though the organization of his work is solid — he chronologically exhibits both events from the novel and events from Brontë’s life side-by-side, lending the only credibility to his claims I was able to find — the evidence is weak at best. The majority of Pfordresher’s evidence relies on speculation and emotional projection. For example, he supposes Jane’s low moods, especially reflected in a cold and barren opening scene, are reflective of Brontë’s feelings of entrapment as she tended to her temporarily-blind father after he had eye surgery. Surely, he asserts, Brontë felt sad and cooped up, and so she wrote Jane the same. While letters from Brontë to friends might suggest these feelings, to then assume these emotions were all-consuming and, what’s more, the basis for her novel is, again, a leap. Self-insertion narratives exist, no doubt, but we cannot make that kind of claim here without more evidence, at least. How many letters have I written to friends about how I’m hankering for a sandwich? And later, how often do I mention a sandwich in my own fictional pursuits? Often enough, I suppose, but this does not mean that my characters are me, nor does it mean I am utterly enthralled with sandwiches. We don’t write just about things we obsess over: we write about the everyday, too, and Pfordresher ignores this fact in his points. Pfordresher may suppose Brontë felt sadness at being bound to her father, but how much is he supposing based on how he expects he would feel in the same situation? The language he uses in this particular example seems to indicate, even, that he is projecting his own experiences onto Brontë, who, according to him, is projecting onto Jane.

Other outlandish assertions include Jane’s love interest, Mr. Rochester, being modeled primarily off of Brontë’s brother and father (along with the man from her affair-that-wasn’t); that Brontë was interested in domineering men (though Pfordresher provided contrary evidence in that she referred to her own husband as “my boy”), thus explaining Mr. Rochester’s character to a greater degree; and that St. John Rivers was not modeled after anyone (which, while I might agree with that, it seems a copout to write an entire book stating that Jane and Charlotte are the same without, again, supporting it in every facet). These are only a few of the big jumps Pfordresher makes, always within the frame of intent, as opposed to possible interpretation.

When I confronted Pfordresher about his premise and evidence at the Arlington Public Library event, I simply stated I wasn’t convinced. He agreed that other critics and readers had pointed out his evidence was insufficient for them, but that he stood by his thesis. I asked for further evidence and his primary source of confidence, he said, was a letter Brontë wrote to George Henry Lewes in which she alluded to the combination of nature, truth, and imagination in her writing. Still, without documentation from Brontë herself stating that Jane is truly herself, this letter means nothing more than that Brontë was perhaps influenced and informed by her own life in her writing.

In terms of prose, Pfordresher has a slow and tedious style with little sentence and vocabulary variation to keep things running. Though it’s fairly readable — and he admitted the book had been rewritten after original criticisms that the first go was too academic for a mainstream audience — it is still not exactly pop literary criticism, leaving the book in this odd place between popular and academic writing. Combined with the barely-there evidence, this style renders the book practically useless. (No personal offense to Professor Pfordresher, and I do mean “practically” here in the sense of the word “practice.”) There is no useful application for this material excerpt, I suppose, as an opportunity to publish material that argues against it, and I suspect it could be done very, very successfully.

Though Pfordresher explained the origins of the book came from a woman who heard his interview with Diane Rehm some years back and requested a text on how Charlotte Brontë came to write Jane Eyre, the book ends up feeling like the result of pressure to publish as a working professor. That is a kettle of fish I really know nothing about, though at first glance I worry that this is often the result of arbitrary publication rules around tenure and careers of teaching. Pfordresher, in his lecture, noted that he had not already drawn his conclusion at the time he started his research, perhaps as a way to placate my concerns over his lack of evidence — if he had been swayed throughout his time working on the book, certainly I could be by what he presented. If the evidence is there, Pfordresher does a poor job at selling it — but, frankly, I don’t think the evidence is there to begin with.

The Secret History of Jane Eyre doesn’t add anything new to the canon of literary criticism, relies on outdated and unreliable sources for evidence, and spends a lot of time turning supposition into fact. It’s not something I can imagine any professor I’ve ever had accepting as an idea for a paper, let alone as the paper itself. Unless you’re interested in preparing a rebuttal (I’ll edit!) to this work, it’s not worth the time. Skip it.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Free to Make by Dale Dougherty

Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds by Dale Dougherty
North Atlantic Books, 2016, 336 pages
Non-Fiction

Emphasizing the importance of the maker movement in modern society, Dale Dougherty sets out to meet makers, describe makerspaces around the world, and convince his readers that makerspaces are here to stay. The book’s opening chapters imply Dougherty will also explore what makes a good makerspace and an all-around how-to when it comes to implementing a makerspace or maker program at, say, a public library. This was one of my main motivators in reading the book. As someone in the library science field, I’m naturally interested in emerging trends therein.

Unfortunately, Dougherty doesn’t really deliver in that arena. While some digging in the book might bring out some gems as to what makes a good makerspace and how to go about successfully designing a maker program, there was nothing deliberate in the text that got at this concept. Instead, Dougherty focuses on stories of individuals making things independently — often inspired by, but not necessarily directly involved in, makerspaces and making. He describes the origins of Arduino and as sous-vide machine, for example. And, while these kinds of projects are certainly attainable for many makers, the concepts are simply too advanced for most makers. The individuals in these stories essentially dropped their lives to work on their projects, which isn’t a thing that can happen in reality for most people. Although Dougherty discusses how making is a thing of democracy and equity, I wasn’t convinced. It takes a lot of time and often money to develop these projects, which makes them inherently inaccessible to many.

While readers may draw their own conclusions from that path of thought, Dougherty does little to emphasize the implications of the maker movement beyond the first couple of chapters and his conclusion. Instead, the book reads like a lengthy article profiling a handful of makers who, excuse the pun, made it. And while that’s interesting to some folks on its own, it doesn’t make the work especially useful, particularly in the context of its subtitle, “How the Maker Movement Is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds.” Another point toward the article-esque feeling of the work is the writing style. Dougherty’s background with Make: magazine means this writing style makes sense, but it doesn’t serve the nature of the thing he’s writing. What is perhaps readable and even interesting in small amounts becomes tedious in a book-length piece.

Dougherty’s focus suffers as he notably emphasizes making that revolves around technology and what you traditionally think of when you think tools. There’s a brief moment in which Dougherty nods to crafters (and we can go on about how “making” is masculine and “crafting” is feminine, but that’s for another time), but despite the fact that crafting is making, its sadly absent from the pages of Free to Make. To be sure, it does not fit neatly within the maker movement. Craft fairs, with pre-made and made-to-order items available for sale have been around for years, taking up booths in high school gymnasiums and boasting the skills of their crafters (read: makers). And yet (and, I’ll return briefly to this, because I do think it’s important, if not strictly relevant — I think this may be because crafting is feminine and making is masculine so we as a society, Dougherty included, place more value on making than we do crafting), crafting is not a thing in Dougherty’s maker universe.

All said, if you’re a librarian, teacher, educator, or maker looking for information on how to go about building a makerspace or even making a case for a makerspace, you likely won’t find much of use here. Free to Make is full of fascinating case studies, but it doesn’t deliver what it advertises. Though easy to read and inspiring in many places, the contents are not what I’d lean on for any research on the topic.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #13, “Read a nonfiction book about technology,” and I leave it behind with three hearts.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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