John Scalzi on becoming a “self-made man”

I’ve been a big John Scalzi fan ever since reading his collection of essays on writing, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to the Coffee Shop. As a librarian, I’m an even bigger fan after reading his essay “A Self-Made Man Looks at How He Made It.”

Scalzi, who is the author of eight novels (including the Hugo Award nominee Old Man’s War), writes about how his success is in direct relation to all the help he received along the way, from the food stamps, free lunches and public schooling of his youth to the scholarships and grants that helped get him through college. Not surprisingly, he includes the public library in his list of societal goods:

“Not having to wonder how I was going to eat meant my attention could be given to other things, like reading wonderful books. As a child, many of the books I read and loved came from the local libraries where I lived. I can still remember going into a library for the first time and being amazed — utterly amazed — that I could read any book I wanted and that I could even take some of them home, as long as I promised to give each of them back in time. I learned my love of science and story in libraries. I know now that each of those libraries were paid for by the people who lived in the cities the libraries were in, and sometimes by the states they were in as well. I owe the taxpayers of each for the love of books and words.”

The entire piece is here — it’s really an eloquent and grateful meditation on generosity, whether it’s in the form of paying taxes to continue social programs or extending oneself to help a complete stranger, and how those actions have far-reaching consequences. Wonderful, thought-provoking stuff.

Review: Railsea


Call him Sham ap Soorap.

Go ahead. The references to Moby Dick in China Miéville’s cheerfully high-literary YA novel Railsea are as obvious as they are intentional. There’s the inexperienced young protagonist. There’s the vessel that’s seen better days. There’s the captain who can’t let go of the chase (even if it means losing a limb), and finally there’s the quarry — a great albino beast who seems to be leading the vessel and crew farther from shore and deeper into danger.

What there isn’t, however, is an ocean. It’s a remarkable act of world-building brio to attempt reworking Moby Dick within a largely waterless world but somehow Miéville pulls it off, and he does so by overlaying the vast, dry, ocean beds with thousands of miles of branching, intertwining, and even looping railroad track. In this bleak dystopian world whaling boats and cetaceans have long since given way to moletrains and rodentia. Continue reading Review: Railsea

Great Library Ideas: Digital Media Lab at Skokie Public

Digital media labs are popping up at several public libraries across the country, but the lab at the public library in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago, provides a great example. The digital media lab at Skokie includes the basic equipment and software patrons need for graphic design, digital photography, audio and video recording, and more.

So why does this fall under the remit of the public library? This slideshow by Skokie Public Library’s Richard Kong explains quite a bit, but my take, in a nutshell, is that public libraries exist in large part to encourage innovation, creativity, and lifelong learning, and many individuals simply lack the means to acquire the equipment and software needed to learn skills for digital content creation. Resources like public digital media labs could go a long way toward providing those opportunities and bridging economic divides.

Star Wars Reads Day

Lucasfilm and its publishing partners announced that this October 6 will be national Star Wars Reads Day. They are offering bookstores and libraries interested in hosting the event a kit of event ideas, activity sheets, raffle prizes, and miscellaneous Star Wars swag. Select events will even get a visit from a Star Wars costuming group.

There’s a link for interested libraries and bookstores to sign up, but according to the event’s Facebook page, it sounds like sign ups will be closing tomorrow at noon EST because of overwhelming interest. So, you know, get on that.

Wil Wheaton and friends play Fiasco

I’ve been meaning to review the game Fiasco, but Wil Wheaton has provided something much better: video of an actual game of Fiasco played with actor Alison Haislip, screenwriter John Rogers, and author Bonnie Burton, part of Wheaton’s Tabletop series. For those not already familiar with the game, Fiasco combines improvisation, collaborative storytelling, and randomly generated story elements to produce a Coen brothers-esque story about people with “powerful ambition and poor impulse control.” The game itself is available from Bully Pulpit Games.