The Library of Congress has selected 88 books that shaped America, all by American authors. The first was published in 1751, and the most recent in 2002. Each author is represented only once, with one exception: Benjamin Franklin, who landed three books on the list. Apparently the listmakers at the Library of Congress think quite a lot of the founding father.
"This list of ‘Books That Shaped America’ is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books -- although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not," Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in a release. "We hope people will view the list and then nominate other titles. Finally, we hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage, which the Library of Congress makes available to the world."
The list includes poetry, novels, nonfiction, plays, a polemic, books of science and grammar, cookbooks and children's books. The list includes 26 books published since 1950, 35 published from 1900 to 1950, 15 published from 1850 to 1900, six published from 1800 to 1850 and nine published before 1800.
For those who can get to Washington, the Library of Congress has the books on exhibit through Sept. 29. Those who can't get there to see the books in person are welcome to take the Library of Congress' online survey, which asks readers which of the big list of books they think are most significant.
After the jump, the 88 books that shaped America from the Library of Congress.
This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.
A vast building in McAllen, Texas, was once home to a Wal-Mart -- but no longer. When the discount superstore moved to a larger location, it left behind a vast empty building. The community took advantage of the space and converted the warehouse-like building into a public library.
The size of more than two football fields, the McAllen Public Library is the largest single-story library in the country, the website PSFK writes. Its conversion from vast warehouse space to functioning library has recently made it the winner of the 2012 Library Interior Design Competition by the International Interior Design Assn.
Adriana Ramirez, who teaches creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, grew up in McAllen. "The old library on Main Street was not beautiful," she told Jacket Copy. "It was packed with books and seemed too small for the people it serviced. Of course, that was part of the charm -- always waiting your turn for the computer and spending a good amount of time finding a corner where you could read uninterrupted. The new library solves all that."
McAllen is near the southernmost tip of Texas, on the Mexico border. "In a city like McAllen, with cartel violence across the river (less than 10 miles away from the library), I think it's amazing that the city is devoting resources to a) not only saving a large and conspicuous piece of property from decline and vandalism, but b) diverting those resources into youth and the public trust," Ramirez writes. "It's easy to fall into drugs, drinking, and violence when you live on the border. It's not really easy to find a place to hang out when you're 14 that's not the mall, the movies, or Mexico. And a giant library -- a cool-looking open space devoted to entertaining the imagination? Well, I think that's the best counter-move against violence imaginable. And you don't even have to wait for a computer now."
The new McAllen Public Library opened in December 2011; after it had been open for just a month, new user registration increased by 23%.
[For the Record, 9:45 a.m. July 5: A previous version of this post said Wal-Mart had failed in the McAllen, Texas, location. The discount store remains in the community in a larger location.]
Citing budget concerns, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed a $25-billion budget that eliminates almost $900,000 in state funding for its libraries. In a statement, the governor’s chief budget aide, Paul Rainwater, said, “In tight budget times, we prioritized funding for healthcare and education. Operations such as local libraries can be supported with local, not state dollars.”
On Thursday, Library Journal took a look at that assertion. What they found was that while some local parishes may be able to cover the funding gap, others will feel the loss. Rural parishes will face a particularly daunting challenge.
One of those parishes is Concordia, located on the Louisiana-Mississippi border. Library Journal spoke to the Concordia Parish Library's director, Amanda Taylor.
“There’s no longer a food stamp office; there’s no longer a social security office. In our rural parish, a lot of our people have low literacy skills and very few computer skills. They come to the library because all of that has to be done online. There are some offices in some bigger areas but there’s no mass transportation and a lot of our people do not have transportation to a place that’s two hours away. A lot of our people have children in the military and they come to email their children that are all over the world on these bases. And almost all of the companies require you to do a job application online, even if it’s just for a truck driver who doesn’t need to be great at computer skills, so it is very important that we offer this service."
Concordia formerly got $12,000 per year from the state, which it used to “keep up all of the maintenance [on its 52 PCs], buy new software, and to buy new equipment as needed.”
With that money gone, Concordia plans not to buy anything new, and hopes all its old equipment keeps working. Maintenance costs will have to come out of the materials budget. In the meantime, Taylor is already working on getting the funding restored. “We are already talking to our legislators about the next budget,” she said. “We are going to work really hard to make the legislators understand how important it is in these rural areas because citizens depend on the public library. We’re going to hope for the Legislature to open their eyes to what we do every day.”
Libraries have drawn the attention of lawmakers faced with continually diminishing budgets. Pomona recently saw its public library threatened with closure. In New York City, $96 million in library cuts were proposed -- after a strong showing of public support, $90 million was restored.
A New Mexico woman was handcuffed and taken to jail this month for $35.98 in library fines. The Portales Public Library's records show that Lori Teel checked out Stephenie Meyer's book "Twilight" and a two-DVD set of "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" in 2010 and never returned them.
The overdue library fines led to a summons to appear in court; when Teel failed to do that, a warrant was issued for her arrest. Teel says she never got any notices, because they were sent to an old address and returned to the court, undeliverable.
Teel was arrested in front of her five children, ages 1 to 10. Police had been called to her home to investigate a disturbance when they discovered the warrant for Teel.
“Honestly, it was awful,” Teel said of the arrest and her night in the Roosevelt County Detention Center. “For me, it was very awful because I have never been in trouble for anything in my life.”
Her children, ages 1 to 10, stayed in a neighbor’s home until Teel was released the following morning on $610 bond.
“My kids are still very emotional,” Teel said. “They had to stay with a complete stranger. My 3-year-old is traumatized over it. She will not leave my side.”
Charges against Teel were dismissed Monday. Her lawyer has notified officials that she plans to file legal action for the arrest.
The Portales Public Library has replaced its copy of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight," which is currently checked out. The fate of the copy that Teel had, as well as the movie, remains a mystery: She says she doesn't even remember checking them out of the library.
If Pomona's City Council had approved a proposed budget at its Monday meeting, the city's only public library would have been closed. Instead, it has recieved something of a reprieve.
The Pomona City Council passed a budget that will keep the library's doors open beyond August. That's when it was slated to be closed for a year to help meet a budget gap.
More than 40 speakers appeared at the meeting to show their support for the library, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reports. The names of 150 people opposed to the library's closure were read into the public record.
The meeting, which included consideration of cuts in fire services, did not end until 1:30 a.m.
The future of the library is not exactly clear. The Daily Bulletin reports that on the one hand, Pomona's City Manager Linda Lowry told council members that representatives of Rancho Cucamonga contacted Pomona and expressed an interest in operating Pomona's library. But on the other hand, "Rancho Cucamonga City Manager John Gillison said Tuesday morning that his city has no interest in running Pomona's library."
I phoned Robert Karatsu, the city's library director, and Diane Williams, a member of the council's library subcommittee. Neither one seemed to know what Lowry was talking about.
"She's gone way farther down the road than we have," Williams said.
She and Karatsu said Rancho Cucamonga has offered to look at the Pomona library budget to suggest cost savings. Operating Pomona's library costs $1.6 million a year, the same as each of Rancho Cucamonga's two branches, which are open far more hours.
Still, Karatsu saw no way to operate Pomona's library for $400,000, one-fourth of the current cost, and said he couldn't see operating Pomona's library as a branch of Rancho Cucamonga's.
They're not even in the same county as us," Karatsu said.
Allen explains that the budget the Pomona City Council passed includes just $400,000 to keep the library open, while another $600,000 has been set aside to bring about its still-possible closure.
Representatives from Rancho Cucamonga and Pomona will meet to discuss the library's future. For now, at least, the Pomona Public Library is still open, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The first-ever Andrew Carnegie Awards for Excellence in Literature were announced in a ceremony Sunday night at the American Library Assn. conference in Anaheim. Awards were given in two categories, fiction and nonfiction. The biography "Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman" by Robert K. Massie took the nonfiction prize; Anne Enright's novel "The Forgotten Waltz" won in fiction.
Up to now, the American Library Assn.'s prizes have focused on books for children and young adults; the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott medals are among the organization's awards. For the inaugural Carnegie Awards, librarians and library professionals chose the winners, working in consultation with adult readers.
"Catherine the Great" was lauded by the American Library Assn. as "A compulsively readable biography of the fascinating woman who, through a combination of luck, personality, and a fine mind, rose from her birth as a minor German princess to become the Empress of all the Russias." Massie has become something of an imperial biographer; he is the author of "Nicholas and Alexandra" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Peter the Great."
"The vicissitudes of extramarital love and the obstructions to its smooth flow—including spouses, children, and the necessary secrecy surrounding an affair—are charted in sharp yet supple prose," the organization writes of "The Forgotten Waltz" by Anne Enright. In our review Joy Press explains, "Gina is not so much an unreliable narrator as someone obsessed with her own unreliability. Dissecting her love affair with married man Sean Vallely, she constantly doubles back on her own thoughts and memories, gamely trying to pinpoint the moment when her conventional middle-class life — complete with husband and mortgage — dissolved into something darker and more complicated."
The two books were selected from short lists of finalists. They're after the jump.
The Pomona Public Library dodged a bullet Monday when a City Council budget vote was postponed. Facing an unexpected funding gap, the city was poised to close the doors of its only public library.
The reprieve may not last long. The vote was postponed only until June 25.
Library supporters are urging Pomona residents to attend that council meeting. Using the Facebook page Don't Close the Pomona Library!! for organizing, they've posted fliers and suggested distributing them to neighbors and friends who may not have Internet access. In part, the fliers read, "Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries!"
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin columnist Dave Allen has been spreading the news of his support. "For years I've used the Pomona library for research purposes, and it may be my favorite of all the Inland Valley's libraries," he wrote. This week, he finally signed up for a library card there.
Two weeks ago, library employees learned that the budget gap might mean closing the facility's doors. The council is to vote on a budget plan that would impose cuts that include closing the library and reducing the city's fire contract. Of the city's expected 29 layoff notices, 15 are expected to go to the library's staff. The council meeting on the cuts is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
The city of Pomona, which is home to about 160,000 residents, has just the one public library. If the library's closure is approved, it will shut its doors in August and keep them closed for at least a year. Only if its funding is restored in a future budget vote would the library return.
"Closing down a library is the destruction of a community," Mickey Gallivan, president of the Historical Society of Pomona Valley, told the Daily Bulletin. "If you want to destroy a civilization, you burn their books and you close the library."
What do Mexican libraries look like? Maureen Moore, who works for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, had unique access when she recently traveled to Mexico. There she visited several, and brought her camera with her. Above, students study in the science department of the Central Library in Oaxaca City.
In a post at the Library Foundation's blog, she also includes a picture from Biblioteca Henestrosa, which focuses on Mexican history and Latin American literature and is part exhibition space, part library. Rather than being a public library, it's funded by a single philanthropist.
The Institute of Graphic Arts of Oaxaca and Mexico City's ultramodern Vasconcelos library were also on her Mexico tour.
The post serves as a gentle reminder to visit the L.A. Public Library's photo exhibit, "A Nation Emerges: The Mexican Revolution Revealed," which closes soon. The show, which includes photographs of Francisco "Pancho" Villa, a scraggly military band and resolute female revolutionaries, has more than 130 items, mostly from special collections at the Getty Research Institute.
In addition to photos, there are prints, maps, posters and items from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. It's on exhibit in the Central Library's Getty Gallery through June 2.
The library has suggested a 16-book reading list to learn more about the Mexican Revolution, including "Insurgent Mexico" by American John Reed, who traveled with Villa's fighters, and John Womack's biography "Zapata and the Mexican Revolution."
What we are supposed to do in libraries: read, be quiet.
What we're not supposed to do: watch pornographic videos, stab people.
The Brookyn Public Library this week found some of its patrons have extremely poor library etiquette. At the Brooklyn Heights branch, one patron accused another of watching porn on the library's computer -- and then, according to allegations, attacked, stabbing him.
An inital account of the incident was reported by the New York Daily News:
"He was with his wife and he accused the other guy of looking at porn," one police source said. "The guy looking at porn picked up a chair and hits him. The guy who was offended said, 'I have a knife,' and stabs him in the chest," the source continued.
The man who was stabbed, Ransom Alton, contradicted that story when he was reached after being treated and released from Bellvue Hospital. "He stabbed me in the chest," Alton, 52, told the Daily News. "I had just sat down and gone online — it happened so fast." Alton insists he was searching for jobs, not pornography, adding that because of privacy screens, his attacker "had to be all up on me to see what I was looking at."
Alton also noted that the library has content filters for online access, implying that it would not be possible to access adult content. That isn't necessarily the case. If someone logs into a desktop user terminal with an adult library card, they can choose to use filtered content or unfiltered content, according to a report in the Brooklyn Eagle.
The man accused in the attack, Ralph Neptune, is a 46-year-old homeless man with an arrest record that includes assault. He was taken into custody by police on suspicion of assault, criminal possession of a weapon, menacing, and criminal possession of marijuana.
Food for the gut and for the ears: Gustavo Arellano explores the popularity of Mexican cuisine in his latest book "Taco U.S.A." while Ken Caillat gives readers a glimpse into the studio when Fleetwood Mac recorded the classic 1977 album "Rumours." Both authors discuss their books at Southland events this week.
No interest in the success story behind ballpark nachos? Or who argued during the recording of "You Make Lovin' Fun"? Want something more serious?
Far more sober fare will be served Tuesday night when religion scholar Jack Miles sits down with Marxist theorist Slavoj Zizek and theologian Boris Gunjevic to discuss their new book "God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse" as part of the L.A. Central Library's "Aloud" series.
Zizek and Gunjevic are interested in examining the nature of Christian fundamentalism, what Islam says about religious belief, and the contradictory impulses troubling some atheists, as Zizek explains:
The modern atheist thinks he knows that God is dead; what he doesn't know is that, unconsciously, he continues to believe in God. What characterizes modernity is no longer the standard figure of the believer who secretly harbors intimate doubts about his belief and engages in transgressive fantasies. What we have today is a subject who presents himself as a tolerant hedonist dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, but whose unconscious is the site of prohibitions -- what is repressed are not illicit desires or pleasures, but prohibitions themselves.
It's a discussion far more daunting than the evolution of tacos, to be sure, but Miles is a formidable scholar with a knack for clarity and just the right person to helm this conversation.
Also in town this week are Carol Higgins Clark, Christopher Moore and A.J. Jacobs, among others. As always, we recommend that you check with the bookstore or venue for any time or event changes.
4/24 7 p.m. Vroman’s presents Julia Alvarez discusses and signs "A Wedding in Haiti" at All Saints Church in Pasadena.
4/24 7 p.m. Hammer Readings presents "New American Writing" featuring Aimee Bender and Etgar Keret at UCLA's Hammer Museum.
4/24 7 p.m. Carol Higgins Clark signs and discusses “Gypped” at Book Soup.
4/24 7 p.m. The Aloud Series at the Central Library in Los Angeles presents Slavoj Zizek and Boris Gunjevic ("God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse") in conversation with Jack Miles, distinguished professor of english and religious studies at UC Irvine.
4/25 7 p.m. Gustavo Arellano presents and signs “Taco U.S.A.” at Book Soup.
4/25 7 p.m. A.J. Jacobs discusses and signs "Drop Dead Healthy" at Vroman’s.
4/26 6 p.m. Ree Drummond presents and signs "The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier" at Vroman’s.
4/26 7 p.m. The Aloud Series at the Central Library in Los Angeles presents Javier Sicilia -- "Poetics of Protest: Giving Voice to Mexico's Movement for Peace" -- in conversation with Ruben Martinez, author and professor at Loyola Marymount University, with translation by Betto Arcos.
4/26 7 p.m. Ken Caillat presents and signs “Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album” at Book Soup.
4/26 7:30 p.m. Writers Bloc presents Arab Israeli author Sayed Kashua in conversation with UCLA professor Arieh Saposnik.
4/27 6 p.m. Willard Poetry Recital & Art Exhibit at Vroman’s.
4/27 7:30 p.m. Zocalo Public Square presents "What Will Digital Medicine Look Like?" a lecture by The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care").
4/28 Christopher Moore discusses and signs "Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art" at Vroman’s.