Thursday, March 20, 2008

HTSMC Step 6: Get Lost in Translation

Did you know that during every 24-hour period Osaka changes from the second to third most populated city in Japan--and then back again?*

Today we did Osaka trivia, because Azumanga Daioh arrived, and it has a character from Osaka. She's treated like a freak by her classmates because of where she comes from. What's interesting is that since most Americans know little about Osaka, the translators had to find a way to convey the character's weirdness. So they gave her a mafioso big city way of talking (i.e. Fuhgeddaboudit, and how you doin?).

I had the kids read the relevant section and then tell me their impressions of Osaka. They figured it was full of gang bangers. Then I framed some trivia questions to give them a better picture--it's actually more of an industrial town. And interestingly, at least one reviewer opines that Osaka, being in the South of Japan, is more like the Southern part of the US. In that case, it would have made sense to give the character from Osaka a southern accent. Which would totally change the vibe.

The kids' prompt for this week was then to rewrite the scene, making the Osaka character from wherever they wanted--the South, Providence, the moon. I made mine from a library. Doesn't get much freakier than that, right?

*Since so many people go into the city to work, the daytime population is 3.7 million, but the nighttime population is 2.6 million. So during the day it's the second largest city in Japan, and at night it's the third.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Children's Book Hiatus: Frome-In

Edith Wharton has never before struck me as funny, but she was priceless at the Frome-in. I doubt I'll ever again hear so many interpretations of the same novel over the course of a single evening. One laugh riot I had to share:

"It was right there I found your locket," he said, pushing his foot into a dense tuft of blueberry bushes."I never saw anybody with such sharp eyes!" she answered. She sat down on the tree-trunk in the sun and he sat down beside her. "You were as pretty as a picture in that pink hat," he said. She laughed with pleasure. "Oh, I guess it was the hat!" she rejoined. They had never before avowed their inclination so openly, and Ethan, for a moment, had the illusion that he was a free man, wooing the girl he meant to marry. He looked at her hair and longed to touch it again, and to tell her that it smelt of the woods; but he had never learned to say such things.

Seriously? Since when is telling someone she looks cute in a particular hat a declaration of love? Since when is "your hair smells woodsy" a suave compliment? I feel there's a number of possible interpretations for those lines, and maybe the tragedy of Ethan Frome is that the characters understood each other too well.

In fact, with that in mind, I vow to be grateful for misinterpretation, monosyllabic answers, and overanalysis, since besides inspiring so much fiction by women, it's so far saved me from becoming a parapalegic.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Children's Book Hiatu: Empire Falls

So far in my children's books hiatus, I've read Richard Russo's Empire Falls, and I decided the basic difference between adult novels and YA novels is that more happens off camera. I'm on to The Brief Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, which is ten times snappier, but still: much is relayed to you after the fact or by a third party. It doesn't happen before your very eyes. It's more about the process of discovering what has already happened than about what's happening right now.

But I shouldn't really make sweeping judgments. I'm sure there are thousands of examples to the contrary. I just think that teens live in the moment and adults are always trying to figure out their past, and it shows in their books.

I sort of like that slow revelation sort of plot line, but I do get an itchy feeling: I'm always thinking: this better be worth it. Because if the revelation isn't stunning enough, then the long development feels like a waste of my time. So was Empire Falls worth it?

Well, pretty much.

For those who haven't read it, it's about a dying mill town in Maine--specifically about a recently divorced, crazy-about-his-teenage-daughter Catholic dude who manages a diner for a controlling rich woman who owns half the town. The tension comes from wondering what she's planning next and figuring out why she's always half-thwarting, half-saving our main character.

The revelations are spread through out the book, and the plot is nicely symmetrical and economical: no wasted gestures or characters. And the author's memories of high school aren't romanticized, nor does he waste time categorizing everyone in the lunch room.

My only hesitation comes from the fact that as soon as Todd Strasser has written a book on a topic, it's dead for me, which means school shootings ceased to impress me a few years ago. But that's a small complaint.

The real pleasure of reading adult books for a time is that they last longer--they're engrossing. I can read on my couch for hours on a Sunday afternoon, and there's still more left on Monday. The book takes over my whole week, gets overlaid on my everyday, and gives me something to think about when I'm driving or waiting in line at the post office. Sort of like having an affair, maybe? Like cheating on reality? That's the thing about hardcore readers: you're never sure if they're really with you, because they live in two worlds at once.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Election Fever II

I wrote a letter to the editor to my hometown newspaper supporting my dad's bid for library trustee. What's awesome about the letter is: I call Londonderry "L-town," I use the words "quality of life," and I hate on the Dewey Decimal System. I should be a speech writer.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Not sure how this will help save PPL, but far be it from me to question the power of Edith Wharton. I wish they spelled it without the hyphen, so you could pronounce it froh-main instead of frohm-inn.

Thanks to Harriet

If you have 7 minutes, NPR's In Character series has a neat piece contrasting Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy. It doesn't explore the lesbian themes with the same depth as Horn Book did last year, and maybe it makes Harriet sound like the first bratty protagonist to ever appear in a children's book (what about Mary Lennox?), but I liked.

It also made me think: with all the bratty, precocious, big-mouthed, rough and tumble kids populating children's books these days, would you have to write about a sweet Pollyanna or a Little Princess to make a wave? Certainly The Penderwicks got a decent amount of attention for doing just that.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Stuff White People Like

So one time I was at this healing-from-racism conference, and the woman leading it was like, "Emily, I have a vision of you one day doing stand-up comedy about the neurosis of white people and helping us laugh at our selves." Laughter's the best medicine and all that, but I sort of think she was making fun of me? Also, I think she didn't watch much stand-up, or she'd know that they all talk about race.

Anyway, you'll be spared hearing all my, "I'm so white" jokes (like your mama jokes, but less funny and more neurotic), because there's a blog out there, recommended to me by the one, the only, Elizabeth, which does it better than I ever could: Stuff White People Like. If only I had read this blog before I tried to relive Dangerous Minds.

Are you worth it?

I'm always looking for local grassroots efforts that work, since we all need models for how to influence people in power. I was starting to think "grassroots efforts" were just natural phenomena, and therefore impossible to model. But this week I've been reading the REIMA listserv like with the kind of interest I usually reserve for Megan Whalen Turner books, because the school librarians are on the move.

Since everyone's all Chicken Little about the economy, school administrators in a couple districts are considering laying off librarians. The only thing that stands between the administrators and their evil plan to deny children information literacy skills is a document from the 1960s called the Basic Education Plan, or BEP, which dictates staffing levels in libraries (among many other things).

Well, that and a legion of empowered and informed school librarians. Administrators may be asking for waivers, so they don't have to meet the BEP's requirements. But the librarians are prepared to prove that you can't cut library staff without reducing service levels. I wish I could sit in on their meeting next week, but I'll be at work, so I'll content myself with reading the e-mails and checking the wiki.

I also wish the people whose jobs are at risk here at PPL had as much data at their fingertips and the desire to pool it. When the director of the ALA Office For Diversity spoke at URI two years ago, she said, people are going to want to know why they have public libraries, but not public health care. We have to be prepared to prove our worth.

Want to help defend school library services? Write to these people:

Peter McWalters


Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

255 Westminster Street

Providence, RI 02903

Todd D. Flaherty

Deputy Commissioner
Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

255 Westminster Street

Providence, RI 02903

David V. Abbott

Deputy Commissioner

Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

255 Westminster Street

Providence, RI 02903

Board of Regents Members

Robert G. Flanders Jr., Esq., Chairman

Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education

c/o RI Department of Education
Attention: Sharon Osborne
255 Westminster Street, 5th floor
Providence, RI 02903

Patrick A. Guida, Esq., Vice-Chairman
Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education

c/o RI Department of Education
Attention: Sharon Osborne
255 Westminster Street, 5th floor
Providence, RI 02903