Book Club Readings – Death and Rebirth

This week’s readings for class were assigned to us by the various other Book Club facilitators, then divided up by Kristin. My group had a variety of readings, though all of them seemed to deal with growth and/or death in a very fundamental way. Our readings were: “The Federalist Papers No. 1” by Alexander Hamilton; “All the Books in the World… Except One” by Darko Macan and Tihomir Celanovic; “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel; “The Blind Spot” by Hector Hugh Munro; “Murder and Suicide, Respectively” by Ryan North (my group’s choice); and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger. I don’t want to talk about any of these readings on their own right now, since I want to save that kind of talk for tomorrow’s Book Club discussions. Instead, I want to try and draw a few generalities across these readings.

As I said, most of the readings seem to me to deal with the subjects of growth and death. To me, these two concepts are inseparable. It may seem, for instance, the selection from the Federalist Papers doesn’t have much to do with death. However, the Federalist Papers were speaking to our (then non-existent) nation about how we should grow from the “death” of the British Colonies. As usual when death/growth happens, there were many people who revolted and rallied against the dying of the light (Dylan Thomas style). The Federalist Papers were written to make a case for a certain kind of rebirth and growth – but, from the number of articles written by “Publius,” it seems clear that this was far from a foregone conclusion. What is clear, from these Papers, is that nobody wanted to just accept this “death” and give up. Seymour Glass did this – he gave up and accepted death over change. Seymour was a student of Buddhist thought, and seemed to understand death and rebirth. However, he clearly couldn’t take the “growing up” that society wanted him to do. He wanted to remain in a childlike state, and, when he realized he couldn’t, he took a way out (the easy way?) (A lot of this isn’t necessarily in the story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” but may come from the rest of Salinger’s writings on the Glass family).

I could go on with this exploration, finding the connections between death, growth, moving on, moving up, and reinvention in these stories. But what does any of this have to do with libraries? Well, as I talked about in my last post, there are some commentators that think we are “at war” with forces that seek to infringe on our users’ rights and abilities. I think this is one way that we, as librarians, can seek to reinvent ourselves. We hear Eli Neuberger (and others) talk about the “death of reference” and other commentators talk about the “death of books.” It is important how we approach these changes. Do we roll over and accept our death as inevitable? Do we want The Machine of Death to tell us how libraries are going to die? Or do we want to find the Publius of libraries who is going to help us find our new way? Death can be frightening, because it means a loss, but it can also be liberating, as it opens up many new paths, as the Founding Fathers knew. How will we, as librarians, react to the “death” of our old ways?

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About rclement643

I am currently a graduate student at University of Michigan's School of Information. This blog is being kept as a place for reflections on the readings for the class
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3 Responses to Book Club Readings – Death and Rebirth

  1. Kristin says:

    You are a one-man thematic book club here! 🙂 Have fun tomorrow!

  2. Kelly says:

    Hm, the Publius of libraries — interesting question. Like we talked about with the Federalist Papers in class, I wonder how such a message would be received — or even break through the information “clutter” that makes up so much of our media landscape. I do wonder about why certain voices in librarianship stick out more than others, and how the selection of those voices changes over time …

  3. ryabbc says:

    Wow! You do such a good job of tying together the themes of death and change/growth here. I wish that I had a chance to read this before our book club discussion, but at the same time, I’m glad that I’m reading it now.

    So far at SXSW there have been multiple talks that I’ve attended that basically have to do with change and embracing a certain level of ambiguity. danah boyd’s talk yesterday in particular has me thinking a lot about replacing fear with curiosity. I think that’s something that a lot of us are able to do, but that is harder sometimes with things that are very close to our heart or our values. I don’t see myself as a particularly fearful person (I have been described as “fearless” but that is also not true!), but there are certainly still areas of my life where change or the unknown makes me uncomfortable, for sure. Stil, I think there’s some truth to the “to-create-you-must-destroy” idea.

    Professional identity and the future of libraries certainly represents a lot of “big ideas” that we hold dear — access, equality (or is it equity?), the book as a “thing,” information as transcending a mere format (book, etc.).

    Kelly’s question is intriguing to me. I don’t have enough of a long-view to be able to suss out which voices in the library world have been prominent over time, and how those people and those “hot topics” ebb and flow.

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