Saturday, October 31, 2015

Current Book: Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim

Author Suki Kim shows us a rare glimpse of what it is like inside North Korea, and that in itself is a reason to read this book. She works as a professor who teaches English in one of North Korea's "elite" universities, though it is a science and technology university without the Internet. While there, she takes notes about the lack of technology, the lack of honesty, the lack of freedom, and possibly even the lack of friendship available to the people in that country. Her descriptions paint a picture of the emotions she felt, her frustration at the lack of freedom, her anger, and even how she developed an affection for her students. She shows how depressing and sometimes creepy the Kim Jong-il worship is, and she brings out the question: is there hope for North Korea to join the rest of the world? In all, Suki wrote a book that was needed and wrote it well, placing the reader in that world to try to humanize the country.

Discussion questions:
1. Did your impression of North Korea change after you read the book? How?
2. Were there any observations of Suki's that you found striking?
3. In Chapter 20, Suki describes the college's "buddy system" and how the alliances can shift. What does that suggest about the nature of relationships in North Korea? Is true friendship possible?
4. Why do you think North Korea allows a missionary-run school?
5. Suki is uneasy about how easily the boys lie, but eventually becomes sympathetic toward them. Do you feel sympathy? Why or why not?
6. After the book, are you hopeful for North Korea's future?


Next Book:All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Friday, October 23, 2015

New Librarian of Congress needs to embrace digital world

By Cynthia Becker

President Obama is in charge of appointing the next Librarian of Congress. James H. Billington, who had served as Librarian of Congress for the past 28 years, resigned his position on September 30.
Who the president picks is important because this position has the power over copyright policy and to declare exemptions to copyright with the use of media and digital devices.

It is important that the next librarian be in touch with the changing needs of digital copyright so they can declare fair exemptions. And in general this position could provide a broader leadership to libraries around the country. He or she could finally help the Library of Congress to participate in the Digital Public Library of American and make even more of its archives available digitally. It also could march forward for the digital revolution and be leaders in preserving materials and advocating for libraries on other information trends, such as open access to information.
Libraries are in a new world, but still can be leaders in that world. The next Librarian of Congress not only needs to embrace that role but also should be looking forward to shaping libraries' roles in the digital world.

For more information:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Guest Review: Winter of the World by Ken Follett

Winter of the World by Ken Follett

by Shirley Ayres

Book 2 of the Century Trilogy, Winter of the World is the continuation of the five families and their daily lives in the different parts of the world.  The five main families are still coping with Europe and Russia after World War I, but in this book, their children are in their late teens and early twenties. It is the second generation that has to deal with the historical politics before, during and after World War II. (Time periods: 1933-1949.)

The von Ulrich family -- non-Nazis but who have to deal with the horrors of the Nazis -- stand their ground during the worst of times. The Russian Peshkov family undergo many changes in government, first under the tsar and finally under Stalin. The English and American families are caught up in the horrible battles of World War II.

As usual, Follett’s research is remarkable. The daily lives under the thumbs of tyrants are hard to deal with but real Germans and Russians lived exactly like his characters.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Guest Review: Fall of Giants

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

by Shirley Ayres

Covering a period between June 22, 1911, and January 1924, this first book of Follett’s Century Trilogy follows the history of five families. When the book begins, it is the 13th birthday of Billy Williams of Wales (nick-named Billy Twice by the miners) who enters the coal mines for the first time since leaving school the day before. His employment in the mines is expected, and his income needed by his family.

The first book of the trilogy follows the history of five families before, during and immediately following World War I. The families are: American Gus Dewar, Russian brothers Lev and Grigori Peshkov, German Walter von Ulrich, Welsh siblings Billy and Ethel Williams, and English mine owners brother and sister Earl Fitz and Lady Maud Fitzherbert. All these characters interact despite their geographic and economic differences. Political actions show the lead up to and the actual fighting of World War I.

I love the way Follett writes. His carefully accurate research is the envy of any historian, using real people and their actual words during one of the twentieth century's most bloody times in Europe. I look forward to the next two books of Follett’s trilogy.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Online Book Club: Ocean at the End of the Lane

Current Book: Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

"Ocean at the End of the Lane" was told as a simple fairy tale, but the story carries depth, and the details pull the reader right into the story. It starts with a middle-aged man returning to his childhood home to attend a funeral. His childhood home is gone, but he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where he remembers when he met a remarkable girl and her mother and grandmother. The boyhood story starts when a man committed suicide in a stolen car near the girl's farm, and that unleashes a story full of scariness, magic, and comfort that is hardly understood by the boy at the time. Gaiman's tale weaves the themes of childhood vs. adult memories and perceptions in a modern fairy tale that captures how magical childhood can be and what it is like to feel helpless as a child when terrifying and unexplainable things start to happen.

Feel free to add your thoughts to the comments. Some discussion questions to get you started:
  1. The story discusses the memories of childhood and adulthood. In what ways do children perceive things differently an adults? Do you think there are situations in which a child's perspective can be more "truthful" than an adult's?
  2. One of the many motivators for the characters in this story is loneliness. How do adults and children respond to loneliness in different ways? In the same ways?
  3. The narrator tells us that later in life, his father admitted that he had never actually liked burnt toast, but ate it to avoid waste, and that his father's confession made the narrator's entire childhood feel like a lie: "it was as if one of the pillars of belief that my world had been built upon had crumbled into dry sand." What other "pillars of belief" from childhood does he discover to be false? How do these discoveries affect him? Are there any beliefs from your own childhood that you discovered to be false? 
  4. Were the fantastic moments real or just how the boy saw the world at the time?


Next Book:Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim