Ambrosia between paper leaves

What is that state of being between books? How do we describe it? What word properly fits the feeling?

You know the feeling of that lull between reading books? Especially when you read a satisfyingly great story such as The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

You close the last page, you feel satisfied by a great ending, you sit and pause with the book closed on your lap, and you drift, still absorbed in the atmosphere of the story. You wait, linger, dwell, reflect, and hesitate before reaching for the next book to read.

You know if you try to relive or reread the story it won’t have the same impact. The surprising twists in the plot won’t surprise you. You know the fate of the characters. You know what it is about now.

A great satisfying work of fiction is a rarity, so you are not keen to start a new book just yet. And you want to continue to luxuriate in this story while it continues to have a hold on you.

What is this feeling? Is there a word that best describes it? I wracked my brain, used a thesaurus, gathered together a word cloud of possibilities:

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Once the lovely hiatus is over and we have properly assimilated the themes and meaning within the story, we are enriched and can never return to our former selves known to us before we read this story. We are more. We mature a little more. Our knowledge and wisdom has grown.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell Homes Junior

I wonder if anyone who chances to read this blog post can offer the perfect word that describes this delicious lull between reading books?

Reading fiction

Reading fiction is not my preference. I prefer true stories; epic adventures; personal quests; travel, and description of place. Fiction has to grab me in the first ten pages; otherwise I become bored and abandon the book. After all, life is too short and there are too many books to read.

For me, a good fiction story is a page-turner that makes me keen to know what happens next. I hate reverse chronology. Often I find a story has hooked me in the first chapter, and then the following chapter takes me back to some point in the past. And that’s where I usually abandon the book.

I like a good story, told from the beginning to end with some unobvious point of focus that gradually unfolds to a satisfactory close. It is disappointing to say, “ I liked the story, but I didn’t like the ending.” I loathe nihilistic tales of woe with hopeless and detestable characters that seems to be a current popular theme.

But is reading fiction a waste of time, as some people suggest? After all it is just someone’s imaginary tale. And why bother when our world is full of amazing and interesting real people, lives, places and situations?

Research provides interesting reasons that support reading fiction as a valuable activity. Not only does this pursuit provide insight into situations and ideas outside of our everyday life, but there is evidence to suggest that it has positive effects on our brains by making new neurological connections that remain activated long after the reading activity is over. This heightened activity called a ‘shadow activity’, similar to muscle memory, by scientists working on the Emory study.

We reiterate the idea that there are only seven basic plots:

  1. Overcoming the monster.
  2. Rags to riches.
  3. The quest.
  4. Voyage and return.
  5. Comedy.
  6. Tragedy.
  7. Rebirth

Typically though our bookstores and libraries arrange fiction into genres of:

  • Romance
  • Relationship
  • Humour
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Adventure
  • Historical
  • Classic
  • Western
  • Chick Lit
  • Paranormal romance
  • General
  • And others.

My fiction reading sometimes follows a typical pattern of author trails. I discover an author I like, then I am keen to read more by that person; until I am satiated with their voice, style, and ideas. Elizabeth Gilbert and Joanne Harris are two authors I enjoy reading. I loved The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is stunning with its unique story and intelligent prose. I like to follow a trail of reading that is unique to my interests at that time.

Many librarians use website tools such as Fantastic Fiction, Literature Map, LibraryThing, GoodReads, and others to find the next great read for ourselves and our customers.

But there is more to be said and understood about the activity of reading fiction and how it impacts and influences our community and society. Librarians get a very real sense of this phenomenon when working with library users. Some book titles seem to grab hold of the attention of the populace and there is a groundswell of interest that seems to defy understanding. The Slap by Christos Tsolkias is an example that comes to mind. It was an uncomfortable book to read. Not everyone liked it. One incident provides the focus for a masterful portrayal of multi-cultural suburban Melbourne in current times. The slap itself – right or wrong – receives attention and opinions from different generations and cultures, and ultimately judged in politically correct times. This resonates with a culture where this experience is known, shared, and debated. We all have an opinion and all are valid.

“Texts affect readers on many levels – emotional, ethical, intellectual, sensual, spiritual. Consequently, two readers can respond very differently to the same text.” ~ Robert Beardwood

But this book had its time and that groundswell of attention is past. Did we learn anything? How has the experience of reading this book of fiction influenced our society? You will still find this title in the bookstores, libraries, and on Book Club lists, but it has been read, discussed, made into a TV series. Why have we gone past that particular book when there would still be many people who haven’t read it? We could apply the analysis of this phenomenon to many new and popular fiction titles. It would be an interesting study.

Fiction of this type leads our collective conscience. We read, we think, we learn, we discuss, we grow, we evolve. I think that this is key to the function and popularity of Book Clubs in our communities. But we know that.

Now relieved of my requirement to read bureaucratic reports and academic articles, I have been trying to catch up with some fiction reading. I have just read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. And now, like so many others at present, I am immersed in the book The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I am thoroughly enjoying the voice, the story, the situation, and the intelligence.

Books as life rafts

A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. ~ Caitlin Moran

Forlorn and adrift on the sea of life; I flounder.

No longer daughter, mother, sister, granddaughter, daughter-in-law; my ego plunges into the classic existential crisis – if not that, then who is this ‘I’? The identities that gave the ego a firm structure where it could reside with comfort and confidence, vanish into the whirlpool of the relentless hunger of “life’s longing for itself”.

Stripped bare, languishing with the flow, the ego in abeyance, waiting, watching, wondering.

I recall the story told by Og Mandino. Reading books in a public library saved him. Homeless, destitute, and about to end his miserable life, he walked into a public library to pass some time before the gun shop next door opened. He sat and started to read, then came back the next day, and the next, turning his life around to become an author, speaker and motivator.

Lovers of books and reading know the power of the written word and that’s what keeps our noses inside books. But why are the words of others more influential than the words we might string together ourselves? They aren’t! The thing is that when we find ourselves in a state of despair or confusion, often due to circumstances not of our making (such as the death of a loved one, or two), then we might be incapable of making our mind do anything beyond grieve.

This is when the words of others offer a lifeline. Throw us a book and we will use it as a life raft. It doesn’t matter what book. Some might say it needs to be a religious book and that would be fine. But really, it could be anything. Works of fiction are perfect because they allow our mind to escape. It gives us a holiday from our own dismal and repetitive interior and whisks us away to another land and time.

As a long time reader of self-help books I can attest to the fact that this genre does not help at these fragile times.

As I steer my life raft to safer waters, these are the books that buoyed me over these past few months: 

*   A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

*   Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping

*   The Gospel of Joy by Amanda Gore

*   Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

*   Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

 But really they could have been anything. I would have liked to have re-read Echoes of the Early Tides by Tony Moore but my copy is packed away in a box somewhere still. I am about to plunge into Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes.

Re-imagine your truth with IN-Q

I am listening to a podcast by Rich Roll, hearing him talk to IN-Q. I am inspired by their discussions about vulnerability, authenticity, honesty, and truth. IN-Q is a modern-day poet of note, rubbing shoulders with Cirque du Soleil, President Obama, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and others.

Poetry is a beautiful genre that allows people to share their stories and speak their soul. ~ IN-Q

As a teen IN-Q wanted to be a rapper, and his poetry reflects modern day America. It is raw, witty, intelligent, spiritual, gritty, and moving.

Back to busyness

I have been back working in public libraries for a few weeks now and it’s great to feel useful and able to help people with their questions. In general the level of sophistication in regard to technology related questions is notable. Many in our population have become quite adept at using and navigating the Internet and all of the associated technologies. The days where it was assumed that the older generation did not ‘get’ this stuff are behind us. Many people are curious about things like ebooks and will ask about them, even if they decide not to give them a try – just yet.

The busy libraries where I work require an agile mind that can handle a day of mental gymnastics, able to negotiate the barrage of unique questions in quick succession.

portsea_pier_01042014This week I was lucky to work some shifts on the mobile library truck. I took this photo near one of our stops, during a short break.

I have been reacquainting myself with the different Library Management System, as well as the different procedures and work-flows associated with a large and multi-branch public library service. I feel very much welcomed back and I am appreciative of that.

Strength in curiosity

It is telling when you still pursue information about a field of interest even when you are not currently working in that field. Of course this is what a true career path is all about. It also applies to hobbies, and passions.

Over these past few months (when I haven’t been designing our new house) I have been spending my time reading, watching, and listening to information about libraries. It is an interesting time for libraries worldwide, with the vast amount of resources now available online. Add to this the prevalence of personal devices, wide connectivity, and the sophisticated ability of the user to find and access that resource, then it is no surprise that library professionals are scurrying to remain relevant and required.

The biennial VALA Conference was held in Melbourne in February and I was disappointed that I was not able to attend this year. However, I readied myself to read and review the presentations when they became available online. And now they are; but it is so satisfying to find the whole multi-media experience available online. The audio, video, slides, and twitter-feed all on the one screen. So thank you to the VALA team for providing this amazing resource. I have been able to bathe like a duck in rainwater enjoying the torrent of inspirational presentations.

The keynote speakers were: Johan Bollen; Christine Boroman; Joe Murphy; Mia Ridge; Gene Tan; and Matt Finch.

Johan Bollen spoke about big data and how to use twitter posts for data visualisation and to analyse for predicting social trends. He pointed out that not only can one see what is happening as it is happening, but it is possible to see how people are feeling about what is happening. And this information is valuable.

Christine Borgman also spoke about big data and open access to data repositories, explaining in detail what that means in reality, especially for academics and research.

Joe Murphy talked about the future of libraries; his main point being that libraries will have a robust future if we all encourage curiosity.

Mia Ridge talks about libraries as maker-spaces for cultural heritage; making the point that libraries have always provided this service opportunity. For example: people writing their family history using the library and resources is using the space for making something that has value for cultural heritage. 

Gene Tan talked about the Singapore Memory Project, and organising multiple perspectives of moments in life with a random approach. Of significance is the project that gave every Singaporian a personal account for their memories, from which the library would organise, and store for prosperity. “Giving your past a present”. Gene has a unique and endearing style that really gets to the heart of people. Don’t skip the Q&A session at the end.

Matt Finch took off his clothes and redressed in another outfit on stage, to make the point that libraries are not just for hipsters but for everyone – even those dressed in regulation fluoro stripes.

I was validated by the comments made by Joe Murphy; that the librarian who encourages curiosity in her self and others is strong and will persist and thrive into the unsure future of libraries. I am that person who always wants to discover new things, and I am as yet unsatisfied with the answers to my questions about life, the universe and everything in it.

Using SlideShare

I have been using SlideShare for many years now as it is a perfect tool for presentations, showing people how to do things, and explaining concepts – on the run. Of course this list is not a complete list of my presentations to date, as I have presented others for a purpose, but not for public access.

suesbent_on_slideshare_2014

Each presentation here served a specific purpose and was created at a particular moment in time. So you might notice that some of the online tools explained no longer exist or have developed into a slightly different version.

Here is a list of my presentations in order of date creation:

  1. How to create a wiki (2008). I created this ‘how-to’ guide to show school teachers how to create an online platform for collaborative class assignment work. To date: 112757 views; 928 downloads; 5 comments; and 34 likes.
  2. How to create a wiki using PBWiki2 (2008). I created this ‘how-to’ guide when changes were made by the PBWiki team. To date: 3337 views; 38 downloads.
  3. Blogs and RSS in 2009 (2009). Subscribing to RSS feeds is a perfect tool to assist people to refine their information needs from the Internet. It can be a little technical to describe and set up. I gave a talk on this topic back in 2005 to a group of librarians but the tool being used then was Bloglines. In 2009 it amazed me how few people still knew how to use this technique, so I created this presentation to explain why you would want to do it, and how to set it up. Unfortunately Google Reader ceased to exist in 2013, so other RSS readers are required. I now use Feedly and sync this with my mobile phone. To date: 978 views; 4 downloads.
  4. Photos by Susan Bentley (2009). I love taking photos and wanted to collate and share a few of my best shots. To date: 2255 views; 61 downloads.
  5. Social media considerations for local government (2013).  I was part of a team considering and creating a social media policy and procedure for the local government organisation where I was employed. This presentation I created to help explain the situation to other employees. To date: 442 views.
  6. Presentations in Second Life (2013). In 2013 as part of my Masters studies I studied the subject Social Media for Information Professionals. Part of this work requirement was that we visited the Charles Sturt University campus of Jokaydia in Second Life to meet others and watch some presentations of work by students from another subject. To date: 184 views.
  7. Social media for our organisation (2013). Again as part of the training roll-out of online social media use for the organisation where I worked, this presentation offered more information on the topic. To date: 139 views.
  8. Personal digitisation plan (2013). I studied the subject Creating and Preserving Digital Content for my Masters studies, and needed to formulate my own plan of attack for my own collection of photos. To date: 177 views.
  9. Daring greatly (2013). I enjoyed watching the inspirational talks by Brené Brown on TED, and used the words from her manifesto to inspire the team I led at Glenelg Libraries. I matched these words with some photos I had taken of the local area, then edited using Instagram. To date: 226 views; 2 downloads.
  10. Library Trek (2013). I was invited to give a talk about contemporary public libraries to the Red Cross Conference held in Casterton and these are the slides from that talk. I was well aware that the audience mainly consisted of elderly women who have very little experience or knowledge with technology, and yet I wanted to try to give them an idea about the possibilities for them in the online world – and how their local library could help them. Feedback from some of the people there said that it was the least boring talk of the day. Obviously without the speech notes these slides don’t tell you much. To date: 82 views.