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Librarian Blog

Feeling bad about dystopianism

Wooey. Jill Lepore is put off and put out.
Her target, in the latest issue of The New Yorker: dystopian literature.
You know, think "1984" and "Animal Farm" and "Brave New World" and "Fahrenheit 451," etc., and so on. More recent examples are regularly appearing in the young adult fiction categories, with titles like "The Giver" and "Walkaway."
Lepore does not like what's going on in this genre in the least. Dystopianism has become too dark, too ugly, too awful.
Here she is in her final paragraph on the subject:
"Dystopia used to be a fiction of resistance; it's become a fiction of submission, the fiction of an untrusting, lonely, and sullen twenty-first century, the fiction of fake news and infowars, the fiction of helplessness and hopelessness. It cannot imagine a better future, and it doesn't ask anyone to bother to make one. It nurses grievances and indulges resentments; it doesn't call for courage; it finds that cowardice suffices. ..."
It goes down from there.
Perhaps Lepore is right. I haven't read enough of these books to really know.
But, if they're attracting a large audience, there's a reason.
What would that be?

What the state's telllng kids

The Texas Legislature is finished for another two years.
I have yet to see budgetary figures. But, it's not too early to say that people in higher education are not lifting glasses of champaign and congratulating their representatives for giving them the amount of money they need to do their jobs in a way that people of a democracy might expect.
In all probability, higher ed was again a whipping boy for legislators intent on driving state colleges and universities out of business. We can only conclude that's their intent because that's what they continue to do every legislative session.
Of course, Texas legislators are not alone. This effort to kill higher education -- except for the children of the wealthy -- is well under way all across America. The New York Times had a piece on Sunday by David Leonhardt that is worth your time to look up. It documents the trend.
The headline on his piece tells the story: The Assault on Colleges -- and the American Dream.
The consequences of this assault are already clear: fewer poor kids can get educated while the children of the rich prosper. The education and earnings gap grows ever wider. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer and soon you have a subservient class that's so completely stupid that ordering them around as the mop floors and take out garbage becomes ever easier.
Books called dystopian have predicted what's happening. We used to call them works of fiction.

An A for effort?

I feel kind of sorry for the folks who put together the American Writers Museum in Chicago.
The museum just opened to the public, and it's not getting much love.
For example, Edward Rothstein wrote a critical piece about the museum in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, concluding that, "...just as no one will learn to write here, few will be inspired to read." Better, he says, to pick up a copy of the Norton Anthology of American Literature and start reading, or, even better, go to a library.
We appreciate the plug.
But, I also wonder if something of merit can't have come from the Chicago effort to do something about American letters. Maybe not.
How hard, though, it must have been to even try. How do you capture the essence of the exercise that is writing? How do you put something concrete together about imagination? Can you have an exhibit behind glass of "genius?"
I congratulate the museum's founders for trying.
If they fell short, that's too bad, but not necessarily a reason not to stop by to see how they approached this very tough subject.

Most parents don't help

When it comes to helping their kids pay for a college education, most parents just aren't.
Not even a little bit.
The data come from Priceconomics, a company that aggregates information from various sources. The information about parent help on college expenses just came out.
The data present an interesting picture.
Forty-five percent of parents pay Zero. And only 9 percent pay all of a student's expenses.
Some pay a little.
Why is this so? Do parents just not care whether their kids get an education? That doesn't sound likely.
Instead, I'm guessing that a lot of parents are just getting by themselves and have nothing left over at the end of the month to help with college.
One conclusion that can be drawn from the data: There's never been a better time for students to consider attending a community college than right now. They are affordable. They are close to home. And they give a kid a good education.

Unforgettable

I had no idea there was a thing such as a World Memory Championship tournament.
There is.
And the people who compete are a) pretty good at recall; and/or b) adept at using memory tricks. Or maybe both.
Imagine being able to look at 72 words and then recalling each of them 20 minutes later.
I don't know how many words the winners of the WMC tournament can recall, but I'm impressed by a recall of 70 out of 72.
It turns out that I might be able to do something approaching that even though my brain is, well, on the aging side of things.
Research reported in Science News in April found that training could help with memory retention -- by a good amount.
One memory trick researchers found was effective was called the "loci method." You associate what you want to remember with something you can remember, like the route from your bedroom to the curb out your front door. The first thing to recall might be put in your closet to be "found" later. The next thing might go in your bathroom, the next in the shower stall, the next in the front hallway, and so on.
The idea sounds solid, and obviously it works.
But, there's something to be said for a little book you keep in your pocket with a pencil so you can keep lists and make notes and free up your brain for other stuff.
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