This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

July 7, 2005 - librarians in fiction

If you're about to take a long road trip with your family (and I just did, to attend a couple of events in Chicago), I advise two things:

1) Have a companionable family. When I was a kid, we engaged in things like whacking each other repeatedly on our sunburns. My kids work out synchronized seated dance moves. It is better to hear the sound of giggles than the sound of screams.

2) Take some audiobooks. We took "Looking for Bobowicz," written and read by Daniel Pinkwater. We took "Matilda" by Roald Dahl. We also took "War of the Worlds" -- the original Orson Welles broadcast.

In the first and second, I was delighted to meet two distinctive librarians. Pinkwater introduced Starr Lackawanna, "a woman with wild hair, wearing what looked like a gym suit with rainbow-striped leg warmers and cape." Ms. Lackawanna was one of the few people in the town of Hoboken, NJ, who was willing to talk to young people. (The others included a pirate radio station operator, a bum in the park, and a mad scientist.) Lackawanna tells the kids that she lives to "amaze and astonish."

I won't spoil the story, but suffice it to say that Ivan Itch, known (understandably) as "Nick," moves from his suburban Happy Valley into the big city because his parents want him to have "urban experiences." Within half an hour, his bicycle is stolen. The rest of the story involves Classics Illustrated comics, old music, Beaux Arts, and libraries as authoritative repositories of local history. It also features, it almost goes without saying, a giant chicken. Highly recommended.

I'd seen the "Matilda" movie, and enjoyed it. The book is set in England. Matilda is an extremely precocious child, raised by a crooked dad and a negligent mother. Matilda's life starts to turn around when she finds the local library, where Mrs. Phelps, local librarian, gently steers her to the world of classic literature. Phelps is interesting: concerned and thoughtful, but most unwilling to interfere except by acts of professional courtesy and kindness.

Later Matilda goes to school, where she meets a wonderful teacher, and a school master who can only be described as nightmarish. As with Pinkwater, all ends well.

On the whole, I found both of these portrayals of my colleagues sympathetic and positive. It happens that authors Pinkwater and Dahl had childhoods in which the charming and magical was occasionally mixed up with adult brutality. Pinkwater's father was apparently a gangster; Dahl was savagely caned by a cruel headmaster.

Fortunately, librarians can be trusted to provide sanctuary, to tell the truth, to treat children with respect.

The last audiobook was "War of the Worlds." This story of a Martian invasion was written by H.G. Wells, and reworked as part of a famous radio broadcast on the night before Halloween, in 1938. Over a million people thought it was happening for real. The audiobook also presents snippets of another version (released during the Vietnam War), and rare audio interviews with both H.G. Wells and Orson Welles.

After the first broadcast, there was a fierce national debate. Some were concerned that the young media of radio had demonstrated that it could be used to sell preposterous lies. Others found the gullibility of Americans very funny.

At any rate, don't forget to pack the audiobooks before that trip. It sure beats looking at license plates.

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