November 2007

After taking an extended break to deal with book deadlines and some family matters, I’m returning this week to review Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, an action-adventure anime series available at the Dublin, Fremont Main and San Lorenzo library branches.

Loosely based on the Ghost in the Shell theatrical feature films, and with many of the same characters, though the storyline is quite different, Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex is a 26-episode anime series that’s partly a police procedural set in a near-future science fiction setting, and partly a philosophical musing on what comprises a human being.

Major Motoko Kusanagi leads a team of anti-terrorism police in a near-future world where almost everyone has cybernetic enhancements. There are also robots that look and act human, which has led to interesting social and legal dilemmas about who is human, and therefore entitled to human rights, and who is merely a machine, something that can be owned and disposed of at the owner’s will. The distinction is the soul, or the “ghost in the shell.”

Kusanagi treads a fine line between machine and human. Struck down by a crippling childhood disease, her brain was implanted in a beautiful, ageless, superhuman Ghost in the Shellcybernetic body. Yet, she is considered human, because she has a “ghost.” Her team mates all have varying degrees of cybernetics, including artificial eyes that enhance vision. The one exception is the rookie member, who has made the highly-unusual choice not to acquire any cybernetic implants. This choice frequently hampers him in the course of his police work; yet, it also renders him immune to some of the cyber-attacks employed by terrorists.

The series, episodic at first, starts by exploring questions about what it means to be human, the philosophy interspersed with punchy action sequences and lots of explosions. Then the storyline settles into a tense investigation of a cyber-terrorist known as “The Laughing Man,” which then morphs into vicious inter-departmental infighting between Kusanagi’s boss and his rivals as Kusanagi and her team begin to uncover truths that the government would prefer stay buried.

Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex also has a wonderful soundtrack–the opening theme, sung in what sounds like Latin and Bulgarian, is haunting and gorgeous, and the rest of the series’ music is a deft blend of rock and neo-classical.

Is this series appropriate for your child? Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex is a hard action series that includes intense violence and acts of terrorism. This show is probably most appropriate for teens (13 years and older).

I’m actually not in the library this week as I am spending Thanksgiving with my elderly parents.  In between all the tasks of taking care of my parents I’ve been thinking about this holiday and really studying in myself this business of giving thanks.  In the Library we have a beautiful bulletin board going that proclaims “We are Thankful!” and children have been writing their gratitude on colored paper leaves which are posted by the children’s services staff, Monica and Sue, every day. They say things like “mom” “family” “food like cream puffs” “the library(!)” “all the books” and more.

Driving to the city where my parents live, I am thinking about what I am grateful for and realize one of the things I really am feeling such gratitude for, are books I have read.  These books have given me strength, made me feel like I am not alone, help me understand that loss is universal and recovery is possible.  They have reminded me that humans are wonderful, crazy, complex, funny creatures, and I have found myself again in so many characters.  So here is a list of some of the books I am most thankful for right now. If you have any to add feel free:

Charlotte’s Web.  Have to start with this one; read to my 4th grade class by Mrs. Ludemann.  “Where is Papa going with that axe?”  from the first sentence I am riveted and it still moves me today.

The Hidden Staircase.  Nancy Drew….ok not being literary, I know, but pure child-sized entertainment and suspense, my first mystery and I devoured more.

Lassie Come Home.  Oh yes, I am dating myself, but I read this book so many times as a youngster I can’t even count. The courage, stamina, loyalty of this dog.  It helped that my Dad was a dog person and we had had our own version of a mighty collie in our home named Lad.   Hats off to all the wonderful dog stories I have treasured, to Lassie, Lad, Big Red, Wolf, Bruce, all the way up to Marley and Me (the one my Dad says is the best dog book he ever read.) Thank you , thank you to all of you have the ability to write their stories!  Please if you know a good dog book let me know!

Autumn Street by Lois Lowry.  I read this as a children’s librarian.  It’s an early Lowry before all the Anastasia books and The Giver.  It’s a crossover book: with themes of war, racism, first friendships and great loss it is a profound read for both a child and an adult.

The Human Comedy by William Saroyan.  I first met this book when I was on a retreat many years ago and got to sit, on a wonderful Fall afternoon, sunlight glancing off colored leaves and streaming into a wood paneled room,  listening, while the leader of the retreat read this book aloud.  It was really my first experience of having someone read aloud to me as an adult. He was fantastic and the book came alive for me; I went back and read it again and still go back to it when I need reminding about the fragility, the beauty of our human condition and the tenderness with which it can be rendered. If you have recently watched the PBS series on The War this book would be especially poignant now.

There are so many great scenes in this book opening with the little boy Ulysses examining a gopher hole, to the teenaged Homer waving at hobos on a passing train, to the treatise on the human nose, back to Ulysses visiting the public library with his friend Lionel.  “What are you looking for?” asks the librarian.  “Books,” whispers Lionel. “What books are you looking for?” “All of them.”

“All of them?  What do you mean?  You can borrow only four books on one card.”

“I don’t want to borrow any of them,” Lionel says.

“Well what in the world do you want to do with them?”

“I just want to look at them.”

Fair and Tender Ladies, by Lee Smith.  The story of Ivy Rowe born near the turn of the century, in Appalachia.  Ivy Rowe has a teacher, Mrs. Brown who thinks that Ivy has a “true tallent” and gives her books to read.  “Do you like to read?” Ivy asks in an early letter. “I like it bettern anything…”  and later, writing more about Mrs. Brown and her husband, as well as her own Momma and Daddy, she says, “I take a intrest in Love because I want to be in Love one day and write poems about it, do you?” “I want to be a writer,” she declares “it is what I love the bestest in the world.”  The only writing that Ivy’s long and eventful life allows her to do are these letters always ending with her signature “I remain forever, Ivy Rowe. ” At the end she says, “I never became a writer atall, instead I have loved and loved and loved.” And somehow I feel in reading those lines that the two became the same thing.

This book became all the more poignant to me after I saw Lee Smith at an author event, and she said that while she was writing it, her mother was dying.

Well it is clear to me that I could keep going on this for a long time — Suffice to say I am so grateful for these writers and these books (and so many more) who have been true friends and teachers to me, reminding me to take an interest in love, fight for the underdog, and treasure your friends and companions past all obstacles.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

I have to confess that my understanding of California history is very limited.   It’s not something I ever got in school in a consistent way; nor was it a subject that I was ever drawn to explore on my own.  Ironically, though I did not care much for the subject of California history, I did care about local history. The names of places, the origins of things, the beginnings.  If I am standing on Donlon Road looking at Old St. Raymond’s Church, there is a part of me that wants to know…where did this come from, who built it what was their experience of this land before freeways, strip malls, tract housing and office complexes?  I stand here now, but who stood before and what did they experience?

On Sunday we will be exploring the life of a woman who came much before our time….Juana Briones de Miranda.  She was born in 1802 of a mixed race couple that included Spanish, Mexican, African and Indian ancestry.  Her life, so unusual for a woman, but also for a woman of mixed race, included owning her own land, Juana Brionesobtaining a legal separation from her husband at a time when there was no divorce,  successfully raising 8 children and supporting them with her own vegetable farm and cattle ranch. 

According to the Presidio of San Francisco website, without any formal training she was a nurse and midwife, a curandera, healer who was a legend in her own time. She treated smallpox and scurvy, set broken bones, used herbal remedies for her healing. As the political fortunes of California moved from Spanish, to Mexican to U.S. governance, and many other Mexicans were losing their rancheros, she took her claim of land ownership all the way to the Supreme Court and won. “One of the few Mexican women of early California who owned a rancho in her own name (not as inherited property of a deceased spouse), Juana’s life story is a model of personal integrity, economic self-sufficiency, compassion for others and success as a landowner against great odds,” writes Stanford History Professor Albert Camarillo in a Palo Alto Weekly column.

So you would think with all this achievement that there would be a book about her.  But there really isn’t.  What we do have though, is a wonderful storyteller, Olga Loya as Juana BrionesOlga Loya, who has fashioned a unique one woman performance piece on her life. In a dramatic monologue and dialogue with the audience, in English and in Spanish, Olga tells us the story of Juana Briones by becoming Juana Briones.  She will perform at the Dublin Library on Sunday starting at 2:00 p.m.

This event is part of the series of Chautauqua learning experiences coinciding with Dublin Reads Snow Mountain Passage.  It’s appropriate for families with children in elementary through high school. More information can be found about Juana Briones at these websites:

Juana Briones Heritage Foundation,

Stanford University Research at the Presidio of San Francisco, Tennessee Hollow Watershed Archealogical Project,

There is one book about Juana Briones, The Stories of Juana Briones:Alta California Pioneer, which most unfortunately we do not own in Alameda County, but it can be borrowed through Link+. 

thanksgiving-004.jpgFall is such a lovely time of the year with colorful seasonal changes and Thanksgiving is  the perfect occassion to recognize the abundance in our lives. At the Dublin Library we have a bulletin board dedicated to saying thank you.

 thanksgiving-002.jpgDon’t you want to say thank you too?

“Think of America, I told myself this morning. The whole thing.  The cities, all the houses, all the people, the coming and going, the coming of children, the going of them, the coming and going of men and death, and life, the movement, the talk, the sound of machinery, the oratory, think of the pain in America and the fear and the deep inward longing of all things alive in America.”

With this great quote from William Saroyan in The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, James Houston sets the tone for his novel Snow Mountain Passage as a drama snow-mountain-passage.jpgof “inward longings” that prompted thousands to pack their lives up into a covered wagon and strike out for a better life. Early in the book Jim Reed exclaims to his wife Margaret, who suffers from chronic, severe headaches, “Suppose we could travel to a place where you would never have another headache?  Isn’t that worth considering?” And he eagerly reads to her from Lansford Hastings’ Emigrant’s Guide describing California, “a place free of pestilence, surrounded with pasturelands and sunny valleys where everything can grow and with unlimited water, no mosquitoes, no malaria.” As the wagons gather in Independence Missouri in 1846, ready to set out on the long journey west, these travelers felt “history gathering like a wind, like a river current that could not be resisted.” Jim Reed imagines that his wagon train will be among the earliest to arrive in California.  His wife lays out a tablecloth wherever she can find a patch of grass.  “We’re going to stay civilized,” she says, “no matter how far into the wilderness we may wander.”

If you are reading this wonderful novel and ready to talk about it with others, our next book discussion is this coming Saturday at 10:00 a.m.  We will meet at the Heritage Museum on Donlon Way, where Museum Director, Elizabeth Isles, and her volunteers will have for us a light pioneer breakfast of biscuits and bacon to set the mood.  After discussing the book, volunteer docents will be ready to give you a tour of the Museum an/or the Pioneer Cemetary.  It is so fitting to have a discussion of this book at the Museum where the permanent exhibit so carefully renders  the westward journey of Dublin pioneers.  Please join us Saturday morning!