Exhibition at NYPL: Why Children’s Books Matter

nypl children

I’ve been meaning to write something about this intriguing exhibition that is being held at the NYPL (42nd St & 5th Ave) until Sunday, March 23 September 7, 2014. It is titled, The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.

I find myself overwhelmed even trying to begin to break this down. The exhibition was equal parts history, art, and wonder. The creeping path began with the conception of books aimed at children, which were usually designed to promote the religious morals of the society. Some of these morphed into educational texts on how to sew and mend (basically, disciplines and household chores for the lower class).

The library did an excellent job of choosing books that were not only American but also from many different regions of the world. Some stunning examples were the Soviet era books written for the incorporated countries with majority Islamic populations. And because this is New York City, a nice chunk was dedicated to works from the Bank Street College writers who emphasized the reality of the city and less often focused on fantasy and fairy tale (think Goodnight Moon). Even a book by photographer Edward Steichen, which was commissioned by his daughter, Mary, was included–the title, of course, being The First Picture Book

It was wonderful edging my way through the twists and turns of the exhibitions. There were new treasures to excite my imagination and old favorites that gave me a comforting and familiar feeling. I delighted in 5th grade memories of The Phantom Tollbooth and the uncountable times I’ve delved into Wonderland. I was also intrigued by the pulp adventure novels with their original artwork framed on the wall.

The entire exhibition did bring up an unhappy opinion I have of children’s (and now that term young adult) books. In decades past, there was certainly a lot of schlock aimed at kids–remember those pulp adventure novels I mentioned before–and Nancy Drew, my favorite girl sleuth, was a product of many writers authoring under the name Carolyn Keene. Yet, I get a cold Dickensian chill as I type this. It is true that more people–children included–are reading these days, thanks to e-readers and, in the case of kids, Harry Potter. However, in my opinion, there has been a decline in quality. There are many imprints of well-known, international houses that deal exclusively with young adult. Most of the books are turned out in very short periods of time (2 months!) by ghostwriters. Sometimes the writer offers up their own idea/manuscript and other times, the entire novel is already plotted and banged out like a prefab log cabin. Certain “points” have to be checked making the entire process an algorithm and, in many cases, a regurgitation of a previously successful book (this is why we have so many vampires).

Besides this being a wondrous exhibition filled with marvel, it did make me lament the fact that many books aimed at the younger reading audience lack the imagination and craftsmanship of books past. There are still novels being written today for children that are of high quality that are alluring and fascinating but I fear they are being eclipsed by these factory written volumes (usually with the intention of getting a film deal).

EDIT: For those who can’t make it, the New York Times has a photo slideshow of parts of the exhibition. See it here

John Lithgow Reads Mark Twain

Who is Mark Twain? by Mark Twain himself
(new, never-before published works, Spring 2009)
Chapter 2: “Whenever I am about to publish a book…”
Read by: John Lithgow
Publisher: Harper Studio
Direction and Live Drawing by Flash Rosenberg
video editor: Sarah Lohman

Screened at “How to Live Dada: Andrei Codrescu, Henry Alford and Mark Twain Interview Each Other” LIVE from the NYPL, April 13, 2009

[Dis]Regarding Slush, an update

My previous post dealt  with the phenomenon that is 50 Shades of Grey. Regardless of one’s opinion of the actual book(s), you can’t help but have a quick spine tingle when hearing about the book censorship that was going on down in Brevard County, Florida. The yokels down in their public library system thought it would be okay to pull these books off the shelves because their naive opinion was that these are clearly pornographic materials because they heard someone jokingly refer to the books as “mommy porn” and “soft porn.” Give me a break!

I haven’t read these books so I have no opinion on them but I do have the opinion that in this day and age it is obscene to censor books–at a public library, of all places. After all of her nonsense that was quoted in various news sources, Library Services Director Cathy Schweinsberg, had the unironic audacity to make this statement: “We have always stood against censorship. We have a long history of standing against censorship and that continues to be a priority for this library system.”

Well, I will stop picking on the numbnuts library  services director and just be happy that book censorship has been thwarted once again!

Reimagining the New York Public Library

The New York Times reported today about the NYPL system’s projected ideas for our beautiful Main branch. If you’ve never been to this library (the building on 42nd St & 5 Ave with the two sculpted lions guarding the main entrance) you’re missing out. It has reading rooms, microfiche, and interesting rotating exhibits. And it’s all free!

This sounds great because, currently, if you want to check out a book from the main library, you have to cross the street to their decrepit-hobo infested-book depository that they refer to as a “library.” In the new plan, this grim soul-mangling building will be closed and sold off. Patrons will get to bask in the glory of the lion library.

Among the proposed highlights:

  • Twice as much public space, including new areas for research, meetings, classes, working groups, and other forms of creative collaboration
  • Twice as much dedicated space for writers and scholars
  • Vastly increased public programming
  • Hundreds more public computers, plus other technology upgrades
  • Enhanced exhibition spaces

Even with the dramatically expanded public spaces, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building would still contain:

  • More than 2 million books, including both research and circulating volumes
  • Millions more rare collections materials, including 450,000 maps, 250,000 prints, almost 1 million photographs, and 40,000 linear feet of manuscripts
  • In addition, more than 6 million books and other materials will be made available on-site within 24 hours from a state-of-the-art preservation facility

Dismantling an Occupation 5,554 Books at a Time (round 2)

This morning, I wrote a post about the eviction of those at Occupy Wall Street and the state of the books from the makeshift library. According to the People’s Library, only a fraction of the books were saved and those that are left, have been extremely damaged. The photos below are courtesy of the Occupy Wall Street Library blog.