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A Luddite’s Lament

Posted by Paul Dostie on January 29th, 2016

Welcome to Curtis Library’s inaugural blog dedicated to readers! Content responsibilities for this weekly journal will rotate among the staff and this first one is mine. I lobbied for it. I won. I get to start. I must admit that my enthusiasm to blogging comes from a shameless urge to promote the monthly book group that I facilitate; Beer and Books at the Brunswick Inn. It meets on the second Wednesday of the month. I pick titles that interest me. Last month we talked about The Big Short by Michael Lewis.  The upcoming discussion will be regarding The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. There is no democratic give and take in the choice of book. As you might imagine, attendance can be problematic. Sometimes, even the enticement of a cold IPA isn’t enough to draw readers to a subject that, though it may get my pulse racing, may put others to sleep.

The Shallows will not put anyone to sleep. Certain technological advances have momentous consequences. The developments of an alphabet and numbers, the printing press, the clock all have profoundly affected the way we view the world. He argues that our plastic brains physically change to accommodate our tools. The Internet is just such a world-shaper. Carr calls it the “single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use.” It has given us enormous powers. It also has neurological consequences. One of those involves the balkanization of our ability to focus for long periods of time. For many Internet consumers, attention can no longer be paid. Sustained reading (the layering kind of reading, where nuance, shadow and depth develop) is eroding. It’s been replaced by “power browsing.”

On a related note: Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age by Sven Birkerts builds on Carr’s research in a series of essays. Birkerts sometimes comes across as a Luddite. He’s not! Honestly! But he does have strong reservations about the direction in which American culture (is American culture an oxymoron?) is charging. He has a poet’s sensibility in his approach and seconds Carr’s arguments that emotional growth, sympathy and empathy, come through immersing oneself in another’s worldview. Deep reading does that. So does looking at works of art. Birkerts is a big proponent of idleness and this is where he won me over. He contends that we vastly under-appreciate the flaneur. The ill-considered, unfairly maligned wastrel is actually a paragon of balance and sound mental health. It is in the natural order of things to idle away hours (okay, maybe not all of them) which leads (or meanders) toward inspiration and creativity.

As long as I was shaking my fist against the dark I took home Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. It is a humanist’s call to put away your cell phone once in a while. Stop texting your mother. Grow up! She’s sitting right next to you.

If you feel strongly one way or the other about the Internet, pick up any of these books and come to Beer and Books at the Brunswick Inn on the 10th.  We can discuss it over an adult beverage in front of the fireplace. Luddite, indeed!

Paul Dostie

 

2015 RIP

Posted by Pamela Bobker on January 23rd, 2016

Three of my favorite writers died in 2015: Terry Pratchett, Ruth Rendell and Ivan Doig — three different writers, each very gifted.pratchett_2233925b

Terry Pratchett was a British author of over 70 books. He is perhaps best known for his 41 novels set in Discworld, a flat world perched on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle. Discworld is a richly imagined pre-industrial revolution world filled with wonderful characters like wizards, dwarves, witches, dragons, and suitcases with legs.I am not a huge fan of fantasy, but what I love about Terry Pratchett is his humor and social satire. As I read, I find myself laughing out loud and looking around to see if I can read a passage to someone nearby.

ruth_rendell_rex_featuresRuth Rendell, also British and prolific (77 books), wrote novels of psychological suspense and mystery. She is known for her Inspector Wexford mysteries, which follow the tradition of police procedurals, though Wexford operates by intuition as much as by procedure. I especially enjoy her non-Wexford novels, full of obsessed, dysfunctional, socially alienated and downright creepy characters. Often it seems that “normal” people cross paths with the wrong sort, with disastrous outcomes.

doig2Ivan Doig wrote 17 books in all– each one a precious, well-crafted gemstone. Doig was born and raised in Montana and his love for the region comes through in his books. Doig’s books are character driven, with a vivid sense of place. I just finished his final book, Last Bus to Wisdom, the story of eleven-year old Donal Cameron’s cross-country journeys aboard a greyhound bus during the summer of 1951. It is charming, sweet story of intergenerational friendship between Donal and his great uncle.

If you haven’t read any of these authors, you are in for a treat.  Click on names to see catalog availability.

–Pamela Bobker

Just Added to the Bestseller Express

Posted by Pamela Bobker on January 14th, 2016

Hurry in to the library – we have the hottest bestsellers!

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Fiction:

First Order by Jeff Abbott

The Guilty by David Baldacci

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag

After She’s Gone by Lisa Jackson

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

Nonfiction:

Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates

Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

Sponsored by Curtis Friends, Bestseller Express titles are available on a first-come, first-served basis and can be checked out for 7 days. Exclusively for Curtis cardholders, they cannot be reserved or renewed so you’ll have the best access to new titles, but you will have to read fast.  The Bestseller Express books are located in the New Books Room, across from Lending Services.

Click on titles to check current availability and then come in to the library today!


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