Monday, February 25, 2013

International Fiction Book Club Meeting (February 20, 2013) - "Snow" by Orhan Pamuk

        The evening of February 20, the International Fiction Book Club met at the historic Blum House, next door to the Collinsville Memorial Public Library, to discuss the novel, Snow, by the Nobel winning Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk.  Pamuk claims to being a writer interested in innovative techniques that expand the possibilities for the art of the novel.  He makes a point in interviews of denying that he is a political writer though he is pummeled with questions concerning the various political controversies that exist in his homeland, Turkey.  In an interview with the Paris Review, he explains that when he became famous in the mid 1990s he was asked by “old leftist authors and the new modern liberals” to join left wing causes and sign petitions showing his support politically.  As a result, the establishment carried out a campaign of “character assassination.”  That is when he decided to write a political novel.  He wanted to explore the situation of secularism versus Islamic fundamentalism and his “own spiritual dilemmas” coming as he did from an upper middle-class family in Istanbul.

        Snow delivers on all fronts.  The narrator (named Orhan) follows the path taken by the poet, Ka, an emigrant to Germany 12 years earlier because of left-wing affiliations during a military coup.  Ka returns to Istanbul for his mother’s funeral and accepts an offer from a newspaper editor to take a press pass and investigate a recent wave of teenage girl suicides in the remote city of Kars.  Kars lies at the crossroads of Armenian, Russian and Kurdish architecture and cultural influences.  A wild card in the form of the beautiful Ipek, recently divorced from an old friend in left-wing causes but who is running for mayor for the Islamic Party, spurs Ka’s interest and he accepts the assignment.

        Sound a bit confusing?  Well, the tension grows as Ka meets Ipek and is shown around the city.  He learns the Mayor was recently assassinated.  As he interviews the families and townspeople, different stories emerge about what caused the suicides.  The Islamists claim the girls killed themselves because they were expelled from school for wearing headscarves but a tangled web of other reasons entwine Ka in role of mediator amidst both a blizzard that cuts off the city from the outside and a coup de théâtre in which students from the Islamist High School are gunned down during a theatrical performance in the National Theater.  Ka is seen as a Western spy but also as a poet of some renown.  He is questioned as to whether or not he is an atheist.  He witnesses the assassination of the Director of Education and is given a beating by the Secret Police.  He agrees to wear a tape recorder and meet with the alleged leader of the underground Islamist terrorists, Blue.  But Ka is, first and foremost, a poet.  A poet who has not written a poem for 4 years.  He is also a seeker of happiness as he confesses to Kadife (Ipek’s sister) who is having a love affair with Blue.  “Life’s not about principles, its about happiness.”

        Pamuk, or Orhan as narrator, speaks directly to the reader on several occasions and this serves to intensify the reason for the telling of Ka’s story.  We know that Ka is doomed but are taken in by his strong feeling of love for Ipek.  He receives inspiration at the most inopportune moments and proceeds to write 19 poems during his 3 day stay in Kars.  The poems, however, are never printed in the novel and are never found by Orhan.

        It was my opinion that, although I was riveted by the entire book, the best chapter was about two-thirds through when the narrator goes to Frankfort to try and piece together evidence of the poetry Ka wrote while in Kars.  Another member commented that it was poetry that prevented Ka from achieving his goal of happiness.  This is true not only literally but symbolically.  We discover that it is the narrator’s goal to write a book about Ka’s poetry from Kars.  Toward the end of the book Orhan is speaking with Fazil, a surviving ember of the Islamist High School who has since started a new life with Kadife.  Fazil asks, “if the poems are missing, how can you write a book about them?”  Orhan admits its a mystery but the reader then realizes the novel in hand is that book!

        I hope I didn’t give away too much.  Believe me, I only skimmed a small part of the surface of a rich novel that exists on many levels.  Highly recommended by an author who certainly deserved his Nobel Prize.

        We next meet on March 20th to discuss Reservation Blues by the Native American writer, Sherman Alexie.  Feel free to pick up a copy at the front desk and join us.

Posted by Jim Krapf, Library Clerk

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Teen Initiative

Thanks to the Project Next Generation grant, we are proud to announce the next phase in our popular Teen Initiative program! This exclusive program for teens in the Collinsville School District includes hands-on activities using digital cameras and drawing tablets to take teens step-by-step through the creative design process.  With the help of a mentor, teens in the program will complete a design project and will then be eligible to enter a drawing for some fabulous prizes. The program is FREE and teens can participate at either of the MVLD centers, which include both Collinsville and Fairmont City Library Centers. 

Posted by Jessica Lawrence, Librarian.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Jim K.'s Ideal Bookshelf

If you love quality literature with an international flair, you're going to love Jim K.'s ideal bookshelf.  Jim (not surprisingly) also facilitates our International Fiction Book Club and he does a great job selecting some awesome reads from around the world.
The ten books I can’t live without leaves a hollow ring,  not a true ring.  I could live without them but I would be diminished.  I could choose another ten on another day but will focus on why these ten mean so much to me.  Perec’s masterpiece is a jigsaw puzzle, painted, cut and jumbled up to perfection.  The Palace is Simon’s innovative recreation of his experience during the Spanish Civil War and resonates with rich language and imagery.  Women inspires me to write.  Zazie is a pure joy and sparkles with slang in translation.  Conversation in the Cathedral is a circular novel that covers all the bases of why Peru became politically corrupt.  I read Les Miserables in 1969 and it led me to dream about literature.  The Erasers was a landmark in fiction and offered a fresh approach to what a novel could be.  The Ark Sakura is the ultimate of modern Japanese fiction that symbolizes much of Japan’s history and culture in microcosm.  Old Masters is my favorite book by my favorite stylist while Passing Time is a perfect example of the story within the story within a murder mystery.  What do all these books have in common?  They are all novels and they are all written with a unique and innovative technique that rings true.

--Alison Donnelly, Children's Librarian

Monday, February 04, 2013

Jessica's Ideal Bookshelf

We’ve been introducing our staff to you over the past few months, and now it’s time to get to know them as readers!  Up first is our Adult Services Librarian, Jessica.  Check out her Ideal Bookshelf!  If any of Jessica's titles interest you, be sure to have us order you a copy.

As a librarian and bibliophile it is hard for me to imagine a time when I didn’t adore books. However, as a child I struggled with reading. Then one day a wonderful teacher put a copy of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi into my hands and a magical thing happened. I fell into the world of Charlotte Doyle, sailing the high seas and spellbound by all of the intrigue and excitement of Charlotte’s world. Charlotte and I became dear friends and her tale was the beginning of my love affair with books. Charles William Eliot once said, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” I have found this true throughout my life. Picking my favorite books sometimes feels like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. I love them all for different reasons. These ten books are some of my favorites and will remain dear and constant friends forever.  

--Alison Donnelly, Children's Librarian

Teens @ The M.V.L.D.

In the spring of 2012, the Mississippi Valley Library District kicked off a brand new Teen Initiative program, which was generously sponsored by a Project Next Generation Grant.

According to Jessica L., Adult Services Librarian at the Collinsville Library, “We wanted to create a place and a voice for teens in our library and give them a chance to be a part of a unique program created just for them.”

During this exciting initiative, librarians and experts shared important information with the teens regarding a variety of subjects including everything from technology to careers.

Jessica added, “We hosted a special summer portion of the program called ‘Prepare for Your Future’ and hosted technology-based workshops and programs throughout the summer to give teens hands on experience with technology and to show them all of the possibilities and artistic outlets they could find by combining their natural talents with technology.”

Among the classes offered were introductions to virtual databases (such as Mango Languages and Learning Express), digital photography, video editing, and digital drawing tablets as well as classes that discussed Skyping, blogging, and using social media responsibly. (A portion of the grant money was used to purchase the digital cameras and drawing tablets for the classes.)

“By far their favorite class was the digital drawing tablets,” Jessica noted. “We can’t wait to see what they create with them next!”

By registering for the program, teens received a special Teen Initiative Card, which was a one-of-a-kind library card that allowed teens access to the library’s Computer Lab, opened a virtual suite of online databases, served as identification in the community, and allowed participants to accumulate points within the Teen Initiative Program, which could be ‘spent’ on purchasing special incentives.

Katie H., Branch Manager of the Fairmont City Library Center, summed up a few of the rewards that teens can earn when she said, “Teens are working hard earning points to attend special events like the annual Teen Lock-In, cashing in their points for extra game time, or to pay a library fine.”

Over 250 teens signed-up for the initiative at the Collinsville Memorial Public Library, and 64 teens signed-up at the Fairmont City Library Center.

“We will be continuing this program so keep your eyes open for new programming coming Spring 2013,” said Jessica.

More information about Project Next Generation can be found at

-Posted by Jed Robbins, Library Assistant