Category Archives: Books and authors

Banned books and the library of Morpheus

A notion that haunts me is found in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: the library of the Dreaming, wherein can be found books that no earth-bound librarian can collect.  Books that caught existence only in the dreams – or passing thoughts – of their authors. The Great American Novel. Every Great American Novel, by all of the frustrated middle managers, farmers, and factory workers who had their heart attack too soon. Every Great Nepalese Novel.  The conclusion of the Wheel of Time, as written by Robert Jordan himself.

That library has a section containing every book whose physical embodiment was stolen.  All of the poems of Sappho. Every Mayan and Olmec text – including the ones that, in the real world, did not survive the fires of the invaders.

Books can be like cockroaches. Text thought long-lost can turn up unexpectedly, sometimes just by virtue of having been left lying around until someone things to take a closer look. It is not an impossible hope that one day, another Mayan codex may make its reappearance, thumbing its nose at the colonizers and censors who despised it and the culture and people it came from.

Books are also fragile. Sometimes the censors do succeed in utterly destroying every last trace of a book. Always, entropy threatens all.  Active measures against these threats are required; therefore, it is appropriate that librarians fight the suppression, banning, and challenges of books.

Banned Books Week is part of that fight, and is important that folks be aware of their freedom to read what they choose – and to be aware that it is a continual struggle to protect that freedom.  Indeed, perhaps “Freedom to Read Week” better expresses the proper emphasis on preserving intellectual freedom.

But it’s not enough.

I am also haunted by the books that are not to be found in the Library of the Dreaming – because not even the shadow of their genesis crossed the mind of those who could have written them.

Because their authors were shot for having the wrong skin color.

Because their authors were cheated of an education.

Because their authors were sued into submission for daring to challenge the status quo.  Even within the profession of librarianship.

Because their authors made the decision to not pursue a profession in the certain knowledge that the people who dominated it would challenge their every step.

Because their authors were convinced that nobody would care to listen to them.

Librarianship as a profession must consider and protect both sides of intellectual freedom. Not just consumption – the freedom to read and explore – but also the freedom to write and speak.

The best way to ban a book is to ensure that it never gets written. Justice demands that we struggle against those who would not just ban books, but destroy the will of those who would write them.

Mini Review: The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

The Alchemist details the journey of a young Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago. Santiago, believing a recurring dream to be prophetic, decides to travel to the pyramids of Egypt to find treasure. On the way, he encounters love, danger, opportunity and disaster. One of the significant characters that he meets is an old king named Melchizedek who tells him that “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” This is the core philosophy and motif of the book.

This book clearly aims to be profoundly simple, couched in the language of a fable or extended parable. The attempt doesn’t work for me, but I am not a theist. Nor am I inclined towards a tale of a protagonist pursuing (or more likely, having handed to him) his “personal legend” that doesn’t make at least a nod to the situation of those whose legend is forever cut off from them through no fault of their own. It is a quick read, however, and I did like the imagery of the desert that Coelho evokes.

Rating: 2/5

Singing in between

As has been noted all over, Anne McCaffrey has left us.

How can one mark the passage of an author? For me, a stranger to her, there’s really only one way: she lives on in her books, and so shall I reread. My wife calls for all who love Pern to read Dragonflight again in memory and honor, but for my part, I will travel to the stars with Helva as she serenades the void.