Have you seen this article? It’s by an English bestselling children’s author, Terry Deary, claiming that libraries are obsolete and a waste of taxpayer money. Further, he claims, every time a book is checked out of the library it’s costing the author a potential sale. He blames the closing of bookstores on libraries, and asserts that because of “compulsory schooling”, the goal of providing “the impoverished access to literature” has been achieved and therefore libraries are nothing but a drain on taxpayers and publishers. He makes a wholeheartedly absurd comparison to the car industry (having never, apparently, heard of car rental or used car sales.)

What is this I don’t even.

Confusingly, in the past he has also said of public schools that “I’ve no interest in schools. They have no relevance in the 21st century. They were a Victorian idea to get kids off the street.” Which sounds pretty similar to his indictment of libraries, frankly. Apparently nothing at all good came from the Victorian era, in Mr. Deary’s estimation. While reform of schools is certainly an important topic, sweeping opposition to all forms of publicly available education seem more pre-Victorian than modern to me.

So Mr. Deary looks at every time a book is checked out (and for him that’s more than 500,000 times in the past two years, he’s a popular author) and sees a lost sale. He’s ignoring the fact that not everyone can afford every book they want access to. And what options are left to those who can’t pay for the books they need? Used books are great, and cheap, but they no doubt don’t satisfy Mr.Deary because he’s not getting paid for that sale. Not even as much as the library is paying him. As is the case when you borrow a book from a friend. That leaves shoplifting, ebook piracy, or not reading. None of those options benefits anyone at all.

Bookshelf

I am lucky enough to be able to afford about 5 books a month. But I read more than 80 a year. These numbers do not match up.

What libraries do is create readers. People who do not love reading do not buy books. You can’t expect someone to help prop up an industry they have no stake in. Telling someone who has little to no interest in video games that they’re responsible for killing the video game industry because they bought a single used copy of ‘The Sims’ would be pretty nonsensical. You can’t sell to people outside of your market, they’re not buying.

But libraries help create that market. Through author events, through librarian recommendations, through literacy programs for adults, and just through the overwhelming crowd of free books available without the supervision of a teacher. Visitors can read whatever they want without judgement, and find whatever genre it is that really lights a fire for you. Books need to be sold a little harder than they were once upon a time, they have more competition now, and libraries do all that hard work. Those brick-and-mortar bookstores that keep closing? I miss them too. But because of companies like Amazon bullying publishers so that it can massively undercut prices and using those bookstores as unpaid-for showrooms for their product, those bookstores are having a hard time. If they’re gone someday, the library will be the only showroom left.

Another bestselling English author had something to say about the subject of closing libraries not so long ago:

The book is second only to the wheel as the best piece of technology human beings have ever invented. A book symbolises the whole intellectual history of mankind; it’s the greatest weapon ever devised in the war against stupidity. Beware of anyone who tries to make books harder to get at. And that is exactly what these closures are going to do – oh, not intentionally, except in a few cases; very few people are stupid intentionally; but that will be the effect. Books will be harder to get at. Stupidity will gain a little ground.

I think Mr. Pullman has the right of it.

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Literary influences

Do you remember the first book that really grabbed you? The one that fell apart in your hands from constant rereading and spring-boarded you off into your career as an obsessive lifetime reader? (I’m assuming you’re a reader here, because I most certainly am and who would visit my blog if they’re not like me at least a little? Right?)

Well, mine was A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin. I have no idea why my mom decided to bring it home from the library for me that day. To the best of my knowledge, she’s never read it herself (though she can feel free to contradict me if I’m wrong, or fill in the story if she remembers) and it certainly wasn’t a new release in 1992 when I was 7.

But whatever the reason, there it was. And that story, of a young and talented wizard whose life and career nearly end at the hands of his own hubris, really got to me. I remember carrying around laminated bookmarks I’d made myself, painstakingly copying out the poem and runes from the front of the book. I hunted down the trilogy, the copies with my favorite cover art of course (these ones), and still have them on my shelf to this day.

Yet for some reason, I think this might be the first illustration I’ve ever done of Ged.

Ged and Hoeg

(Bigger, better view here)

The things we love

I enjoy many things. A clear sunny day spent sitting under a tree with my sketchbook, a brisk walk  on a rainy and blustery afternoon. Birds chirping and  flittering about me as I stand still in the forest. A good hot mug of chocolate. And books, and art, and beautifully shot, convoluted movies with fantasy deep in their plots.

Beautiful weather and birds aside, much of what I love has a person, or people, to thank for it. And because of the internet, I’m closer to those people than ever I was in my childhood. I can read an author’s blog and learn how she sat in a coffee shop for hours, years, drinking hot chai and typing long fluid sentences. I can follow an art director’s twitter stream and watch the development of a cover from concept to print. I can visit an artist’s portfolio site and see what work inspired and was inspired by the cover I enjoy so much. If ever I feel threatened by a disconnect between myself and the world of wonders I consume, I can go online and immediately discover myself a part of a community of writers, artists, readers, creators. It is a beautiful, exhilarating feeling. It reminds me of why it’s such a lucky thing to be human in this century — our society is huge.

Continue reading

Japanese critters, and tangents

I’m looking back on my old blog, and remembering that I used to ramble a lot more often about things I just liked. I’m going to get back on that.

Nekomata, from the Kaibutsu Ehon

Nekomata, from the Kaibutsu Ehon

Evan and I have been watching the show Mushi-shi lately. It’s a slow, quiet little anime, with each episode a self-contained storyline about someone who has been affected by creatures called Mushi. Mushi are beings that exist on the invisible spiritual plane, and when they interact with humans it’s almost always to cause disease. It’s probably inspired by the early Chinese belief that ascribed diseases to the actions of malignant spirits. The 16th century Japanese book Harikikigaki details some of these beings.

It’s an interesting anime, and one I’d definitely recommend taking a look at. The whole series is available to watch for free on Hulu or Netflix, if you happen to subscribe (don’t know whether either of those services are available to non-US residents… sorry).

In related news, the Japanese culture blog Pink Tentacle recently posted some images from Kaibutsu Ehon (or Illustrated Book of Monsters). It’s beautiful, and odd, and fascinating. The early Japanese tales that ascribed supernatural powers to pretty much everything that lived past its expected lifespan seems strange to me, but I know it’s only that I’ve been raised in such a rigidly Western environment. Fairies and trolls are pretty damn weird too. Really, it’s a pretty encouraging idea — we’re so used to the idea that things wear out and lose value, but if it’s the opposite? Humans gain knowledge (and sometimes wisdom, and sometimes insight) with age, so why shouldn’t stirrups? Or folding screens? Or cats?

On that tangent, I’m made to think of Jo Walton’s Among Others, which I recently finished reading. In the British isles of that book, objects that are well-worn gain power from, for, or over, those who have used them. Which is how the chemistry of nostalgia and sentimentality works, really. Why can’t I get rid of that book I’ve read 30 times over since childhood? Because it has power over me.

What possible advantage could this way of thinking convey to humans? Perhaps it serves as a reminder to maintain possession of objects that have been useful to us in the past, and which might better our continued chances of survival? No clue, but that copy of A Wizard of EarthSea is remaining firmly entrenched upon my shelf.

Today’s links

My favorite links of today, things you should really read or look at.

Because they’re good.

Maggie Stiefvater’s Seven steps to starting a novel. Maggie Stiefvater had me with her Kraken video, even before I knew of her books. There’s nothing there you probably haven’t heard before, but I always enjoy Stiefvater’s sense of humor, and found it a fun prod in the direction of actually getting something written already.

World of Afar by Ben Powis A gorgeous little webcomic, taking the form of serial short stories set in a colorful, fantastic world. Some things are so beautiful and creative that they make me want to get working myself, and this certainly is.

Orbit Books has some fascinating charts tracking trends in fantasy cover art. They’re taking things apart, assessing everything from typical dragon colors to most popular words included in title (for some reason that one’s not in their chart section). Perfect for the infographic/fantasy geek intersectional crowd.

Did you know that Keith Thompson is selling prints of some of his illustrations for Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan? It’s true, and they’re extremely pretty.