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Sorry for the long hiatus.  I completed my Master’s Degree in Library & Information Studies in May 2010.  Between my last two classes and completing and defending my professional portfolio, the spring semester was extremely busy!  But I passed my portfolio defense and graduated with a 4.0 GPA–Huzzah!  Here’s a link to my professional portfolio.

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying a little vacation and frantically applying for jobs.  The job market is tough, but I’m hopeful.  I’m primarily looking for work in a public or academic library in Northeastern Oklahoma or central Arkansas.  If anyone has any insider tips, I would greatly appreciate a heads-up!  🙂

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Here is an analysis of John Green’s novel Looking for Alaska, which won the Printz award for excellence in young adult literature.

SPOILER ALERT!

John Green’s novel Looking for Alaska tells the story of Miles Halter, a shy teenager who transfers to Culver Creek Boarding School for his junior year of high school, in search of the “Great Perhaps” (2007, 5).  His roommate, Chip “the Colonel” Martin, takes Miles under his wing, nicknames him Pudge, and introduces him to smoking, drinking, pranks, and Alaska Young.  Alaska is beautiful, witty, moody, and self-destructive, and Pudge is fascinated with her.  When some of the weekday warriors drag Pudge out of his bed, mummify him in duct tape and throw him in the lake (25), the Colonel vows to have revenge (29).  The weekday warriors dunked Pudge and peed in the Colonel’s shoes (29) because they believe that the Colonel ratted out Paul and Marya (37), two students who were expelled the previous year for drinking, smoking pot and having sex (23).  Alaska later admits to telling on Paul and Marya to avoid being expelled for sneaking off campus in the middle of the night and being in possession of alcohol (73).  Alaska, Pudge and the Colonel exact their revenge on the weekday warriors by putting blue hair dye in the weekday warriors’ shampoo and hair gel bottles and sending out fake progress reports to the weekday warriors’ parents, indicating that they were failing (109).  One night, after getting drunk with the Colonel and briefly making out with Pudge, Alaska breaks down crying (129-132), drives off campus and dies in a car wreck (139).  Alaska’s friends are riddled with guilt and grief and obsessed with finding out where she was driving with white flowers in her car in the middle of the night (163).  At last, they determine that Alaska was crying because she had forgotten the anniversary of her mother’s death, and Alaska was driving to put flowers on her mother’s grave (211).  Alaska’s friends must come to terms with their guilt and grief and accept that they will never know if the wreck was an accident or suicide.

 There are several themes in the novel Looking for Alaska.  One theme is that there is more to life and more to any person than can be experienced or known.  Pudge reads biographies and memorizes people’s last words to try to understand what kind of people they were.  He looks for meaning in the facts and the words that are recorded after a person dies.  Alaska fascinates Pudge because he does not “get” her, he cannot figure her out, but Alaska says, “‘You never get me.  That’s the whole point’” (54).  Alaska knows that people are complex beyond anyone’s ability to understand.  Pudge is devastated that he will never know Alaska’s last words (142), and that he would never know Alaska as he wanted to (212).  He feels like someone who has lost his glasses and is told that there are no more glasses in the world, and he will “just have to do without” (144).  Seeing represents knowing, and Pudge will never know the world through the filter of Alaska ever again.  Ultimately, Pudge realizes that “we are greater than the sum of our parts,” and because energy can never be created nor destroyed, “that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail” (220-221).  Another theme is that the labyrinth of suffering need not imprison us forever.  Alaska is incapacitated by her human failures and collapses “into the enigma of herself” (219).  But Pudge recognizes that “she did not need to fold into herself and self-destruct” (220).  Alaska never forgives herself for her mother’s death, and her guilt holds her captive.  By forgiving himself for his part in Alaska’s death, Pudge finds hope, which lifts him out of the labyrinth of guilt and grief, so that he can catch a distant glimpse of the Great Perhaps.

The first person narration, authentic teen language and countdown to the climactic event of Alaska’s death lend compelling realism and suspense to the novel’s narrative style.  The story is told through first-person narration from Pudge’s perspective.  Readers are drawn in by Pudge’s introspective, often humorous outlook and the intensity of his feelings.  The language laced with expletives used by Alaska and the Colonel provides authenticity to the impression of teen life.  The literary and historical references challenge readers, and the unfamiliarity of these references give readers the sense of not understanding everything, just as Pudge does not understand everything about Culver Creek and Alaska.  The countdown to Alaska’s death provides suspense and provokes curiosity, as the reader wonders where the story is heading.  Green notes that people view the most important moment in their lives as a “dividing line between what we were and what we are now” (238).  Alaska’s death serves as a dividing line in the lives of Pudge and his friends, marking a moment in which their lives were irrevocably changed.  Green’s style gives immediacy and gravity to the story.

The Culver Creek Boarding School in Alabama offers a setting removed from the influences of parents, where Pudge and his friends can be responsible for their own choices and actions.  The woods, the smoke hole and the barn offer hideouts from Mr. Starnes where the friends can smoke, drink and plan pranks (101-103).  The freedom and lack of supervision that Pudge and his friends enjoy seems at times unrealistic.  It seems unlikely that underage boys and girls would be allowed to spend so much time together alone and unsupervised (126, 128, 131).  The trailer park (91) where the Colonel grew up helps to explain his hatred of the weekday warriors (13), the rich, spoiled students who attend Culver Creek.  The setting of the Deep South does not seem particularly critical to the story.  The story could have been set almost anywhere in rural America where lakes and woods can be found.

The mode of Looking for Alaska includes elements of comedy, romance and tragedy, but the story cannot be completely encapsulated by any one of these terms.  The powerful realism and poignancy of the novel stems from its mingling of comedy, irony, romance and tragedy, just as these elements are found in real life.  More than anything, Green’s novel is a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story.  Alaska is unable to leave the tragedy of her mother’s death behind her, and so she is unable to come of age and move on with her life.  Instead she smokes, drinks, and drives too fast until she self-destructs.  The paper Pudge writes at the novel’s end (219-221) indicates that Pudge is able to come to terms with Alaska’s death.  His ability to rise above the tragedy and find hope demonstrates his coming-of-age.

The novel’s plot, theme, style, setting and mode work together to formulate a powerful piece of literature.  Readers are drawn in by Pudge’s emotions and reflections.  The way information is withheld, such as the nature of the Barn Night prank (99), entices the reader to keep turning the pages.  The countdown to the unknown, critical event of Alaska’s death builds suspense, and the literary references of the labyrinth (19) and Frost’s poem (10) foreshadow Pudge and the Colonel’s subsequent struggle to rise above the tragedy.  The setting provides the removal from parental influence, so that Alaska, Pudge and the Colonel are responsible for their own struggles, failures and achievements.  These literary elements combine to create a coming-of-age story that will appeal to anyone who has ever struggled to escape a labyrinth, whether that labyrinth is grief, guilt, adolescence or high school.  This ability to appeal to such a wide audience justifies the novel’s placement on the Printz Award list.

Work Cited: 

Green, John.  2007.  Looking for Alaska.  New York: Speak.

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Here is an analysis of Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson.

SPOILER ALERT!

The theme of Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak is explicitly expressed through imagery, plot and character development.  The theme of the novel is silence, struggling towards self-expression.  Melinda Sordino was raped in the summer before her freshman year of high school (1999, 135).  She is silenced by fear and shame, unable to tell anyone about what happened to her.  Throughout the story, Anderson uses imagery of being silenced, choked and gagged to describe Melinda’s character.  She bites and chews her lips until they bleed (5, 17).  She tries to speak, but the words will not come out (25).  Her “throat squeezes shut,” cutting off her explanations (28).  Pulling her lower lip in between her teeth, Melinda wishes she could swallow herself (39).  She imagines her lips are stitched together (46).  Her throat is perpetually sore, and when she wakes up in the morning, her jaws are clenched so tight it gives her a headache (50).  Melinda thinks her mouth looks like it “belongs to someone else,” someone she does not know (17).  She takes her mirror down from her bedroom wall and hides it in her closet (17).  Melinda does not recognize herself after being raped, and she is in denial of her identity now that it has been shaped by trauma.  In the bathroom after school, Melinda washes her face until she imagines “there is nothing left of it, no eyes, no nose, no mouth” (45).  She wants to wash away the trauma and her sense of being a victim, but she can’t.

Melinda’s classmates blame her for breaking up their party by calling the police, which resulted in at least one student being arrested and others getting in trouble (28).  Although her friends do not know what happened to Melinda at the party, their blame and anger makes her feel that she was wrong to call for help.  Melinda’s parents did not know she attended the party; she was supposed to be spending the night at her friend Rachel’s house (133).  Melinda struggles with the sense that her rape is partly her own fault because she went to the party.  Anderson emphasizes Melinda’s silence in her interchanges with teachers, students and her parents by writing one-sided conversations, where Melinda’s parts are preceded with “Me:” and followed by nothing but a blank space on the page (9, 21, 61, 88).  Melinda tells herself, “Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say” (9).  Her friends have their own conceptions of what happened at the party.  They already dislike her for calling the cops, and Melinda believes that her friends do not want to hear her explanations.  Besides, talking about what happened requires reliving the trauma, confronting the trauma and admitting it really happened to her.

At the beginning of the book, Melinda and her parents primarily communicate through notes on the kitchen counter (14).  Melinda explains, “I write when I need school supplies or a ride to the mall.  They write what time they’ll be home from work and if I should thaw anything.  What else is there to say?” (14).  The theme of obstructed communication is also expressed through the character of Melinda’s Spanish teacher, who tries to speak only Spanish to her students and is never understood (13-14).  These elements contribute to the theme of being silenced, unable to communicate complex thoughts and feelings.

Melinda wants to sleep most of the time, but she has trouble sleeping at home.  She lingers for hours in a “halfway place, a rest stop on the road to sleep” where she does not have to close her eyes but can “just stay safe under the covers and breathe” (16).  Many individuals who suffer from depression and post traumatic stress disorder have sleeping disorders, such as insomnia or hypersomnia.  Sleep blots out the pain of living as a social outcast and the awareness of what happened to her, but nightmares can force her to relive the terror.

Melinda feels that her identity as a victim is glaringly apparent.  She describes herself as “a wounded zebra” and her social studies teacher, Mr. Neck, as a predator, “hired to coach a blood sport” (5).  When her parents find out about her failing grades, Melinda describes the scene as dinner theater, “with Dad doing his Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation and Mom playing Glenn Close in one of her psycho roles” (35).  Meanwhile, Melinda plays the role of “the Victim” (35).  Melinda does not want to be defined as a victim, but she feels trapped in this role by Mr. Neck, her parents and IT.

Anderson draws attention to the duality of surface appearances and the reality underneath.  Melinda wonders how the cheerleaders can sleep with the football team and then be reborn as “virginal goddesses” the next day (29).  Even the Sordino’s couch has unspoken secrets.  Melinda turns the messy side of the cushions up while she eats dinner on the couch, then flips them over “to show their pretty white cheeks” before her parents come home (15).  Melinda’s school is also having an identity crisis as their mascot is changed from Trojans to Devils to Tigers to Hornets.  These details reflect Melinda’s facade of silent placidity while something dark and painful boils beneath the surface.

Art class helps Melinda begin to confront her trauma and begin to heal.  Melinda is excited by her art assignment to make her subject “say something, express an emotion, speak to every person who looks at it” (12).  Melinda is desperate to express herself, and art provides an outlet for her pain.  She starts painting watercolors of trees that have been struck by lightning, so they appear nearly, but not completely dead (30-31).  These paintings show Melinda’s first efforts to express her feelings about her trauma and the damage that her spirit has suffered.  She has difficulty drawing a healthy, normal tree (32), probably because she is unable to imagine feeling normal ever again.  By the end of Anderson’s novel, Melinda is able to draw a beautiful, breathing tree in which “one of the lower branches is sick” (196).  She hopes that the branch drops soon, so the sickness does not kill the tree (196).  Her tree is a metaphor for her own survival as she accepts and lets go of her trauma and moves on with her life.  By finally speaking her secret, she transforms herself from a victim into a survivor.

Work Cited: 

Anderson, Laurie Halse.  1999.  Speak.  New York: Puffin Books.

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Reverse the Trend

This is a very clever promotional from the publishing industry!

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Will this plan help to reduce the digital divide?  How can we make broadband Internet access available to families who already struggle to make the monthly bills?   Efforts to increase the capabilities of networks “toward one gigabit to every community in America, through libraries, schools and community colleges” may help to extend access, but I suspect many libraries are going to need more computer terminals to really make a difference in the lives of the lower class.  And maybe more libraries in rural and impoverished areas.  Perhaps a LaptopMobile?

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The landscape of the Internet has changed dramatically over the last 15 years.  Can it be cultivated?   According to this article, information overload keeps users on the known trails and limits deep exploration into the unknown.  If only more cybrarian park rangers and trail guides could help us map this wilderness…

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Transformative works, such as fan fiction and fanvids are a sticky subject for librarians.  Should librarians provide access to and market these resources the way we market other library resources?  If fair use can be confirmed, there’s no problem, but what of resources in the gray area?  Certainly comsumer demand for transformative works exists—look at the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Yet some brilliant transformative works sample proprietary works that are not in the public domain.  What do we do about these?  Case in point: Here’s a transformative work that reimagines The Big Lebowski, if it had been written by Shakespeare.

Brilliant?  Clearly.  Hilarious?  Obviously!  Cultural value?  I think so! 

Legal?  …ummm…

What’s an ethical librarian to do?

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