Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Year in Review

The end of the year at the library means evaluations, and as part of that process, I'm asked to fill out a self review form. Even though I kind of dread it and put it off to the last minute, I appreciate the prompt to reflect on the past year, my accomplishments and any areas that I think I could improve in during the new year. The year provided me with several opportunities to branch out in my skills as a librarian, and I'm happy to say that I've come to realize the importance of actually taking those opportunities instead of letting them pass me by like I may have done in the past. I've come to adopt two philosophies in my work in order to be successful: "Always try to stay at least ten steps ahead of everyone else" and "In whatever you do, give at least 125%."

In January, I was a new MLS graduate working half time as a reference assistant and half time as a serials clerk. I spent nearly four hours a day in a closet-like office checking in and processing new magazines and the rest of the day on the desk, answering reference questions, keeping track of statistics, teaching computer classes and working on displays. Just as I began my search for professional positions elsewhere, my supervisor informed me that the Technical Services department would be taking over my serials responsibilities. She was thrilled that I'd be able to stay and concentrate on other things. Since I had finished my MLS, adminsitration agreed to give me the professional title, Reference Librarian, and I think that was what gave me the confidence and motivation to start taking the initiative.

When one of my colleagues accepted a job as the marketing director in March, she handed over the responsibility of her brainchild, the library's Book Club in a Bag service, to me. With in-kind donations from the Friends of the Lawrence Public Library, we collect ten copies of popular book club titles and patrons can check them out for 8 weeks at a time. Many have commented on how great this service is, and have even donated books to expand our collection. Since taking over the service, I've added about 10 titles to the collection, put together the "Book Club Hub" to promote it, and have managed over 80 check outs. My colleague's department change also meant someone needed to take over managing some of the promotional materials, like read-a-like book marks, fiction 101 trifolds and other handouts.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, one of my favorite responsibilities is making displays. Some of of my favorite displays were Wild Wild Westerns, True Crime, Books Under Fire for Banned Books Week, Native American Heritage, A Few of Our Favorite Things, and my most recent Kids' Books Adults Love. With the help of the IT department and the marketing director, I also put together the new eReader Kiosk with trifold handouts describing different eReaders and information on the upcoming lendable eBook service from the State Library of Kansas. The library received a grant to purchase four iPads, four Sony Readers, four Kindles and 4 Nooks, one of each of which we now display on the kiosk so patrons can get hands on experience with them before purchasing one. The kiosk has really instigated a lot of questions about eReaders and eBooks, and I love getting the chance to explain technology to patrons. Along the same lines, I've gotten to teach several computer classes throughout the year like an Intro to the Internet, Getting Started with Facebook, and our famous Technology Petting Zoos.

Through late summer and into the fall, I helped plan our "Transformations" themed staff in-service day with the staff development committee. In years past, the day would start with a "state of the library" address from the director, but our director resigned just before the in-service. I suggested in lieu of that address, we break the staff up into small groups for a guided discussion and then bring them back together to share their responses. The rest of the day was filled with presentations and training sessions; lunch catered by a local restaurant, Wheatfields; and the highlight, the keynote speaker, the famous librarian, Nancy Pearl. We ended with a fun library themed scavenger hunt, sending staff around the building to take pictures with certain things and to retreive different objects. Even though I felt much of the in-service came together at the last minute, we had a postive over all response.

Having had so much fun planning staff day, I volunteered to help plan the holiday breakfast and the outcome of that event felt like the perfect ending to a great year. If I didn't get a job in a library, I think the next best option would have been event planning. However, I really feel fortunate that I am working in a library, 'cause I couldn't imagine working anywhere else. I'm really looking forward to what the new year will bring, especially with the upcoming expansion and renovation project tentatively set to begin in the summer.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mortal Kombat!

When I was a teenager, I was pretty much obsessed with Mortal Kombat. It started with the arcade. My siblings and I bowled every Saturday on a league, and every chance I got, I ran to the arcade to anxiously await my turn on the MKII machine, quarters in hand. I couldn't describe my excitement each time I wandered into the game room to find that a new edition had been released. Then I learned that I could play it at home, and I begged my parents for the Super Nintendo and Game Boy versions for my birthdays or the holidays or saved up the money myself. I never considered myself a violent kid, but my sometimes unhealthy obsession with this graphic, blood and guts filled game might say otherwise.

I spent the better part of my day off yesterday reviving that obsession. My fiance "surprised me" with the newest edition of the game for PlayStation 3 for Christmas (he actually bought it a couple of months ago, making no effort to hide it from me and telling me he intended to sell it for profit). And I love it. One of the most horrifyingly graphic, and probably my favorite, aspects of the game is the "x-ray moves" in which the animation slows down and you see bones break in x-rays of where certain punches, kicks or other impacts land. Fatalities are much more realistic, too, showing every gut, every exposed muscle, every drop of blood in brutal finishing moves that often times leave me cringing.

Another thing I like about the game is the story mode. A combination of a movie and the original verses mode, you pretty much enter the Mortal Kombat background story as different characters. I, of course, saw the Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation film adaptations, but the interactive aspect makes the story so much better. I even tried my hand at an online round, in which you choose your kombatant and fight an unknown user. I haven't played any form of the game for such a long time, and I was sure I was going to get creamed, but I actually managed to win and even perform a fatality. There was sort of a lag, but I think that was more from my internet connection than it was any fault with the game.

If I didn't have tons of books that I want to read, an apartment to keep clean, meals to cook and consume, a fiance to spend time with and a full time job, I would probably spend hour after hour playing this game. However, like I am at work at this moment, I'll just have to fantasize about my next flawless victory, fatality or babality whenever I don't have the controller in my hand.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poetry Social: "Traditions"

I'm really fortunate to work in a place that allows me to utilize my talents and passions in my job--one of those passions being poetry. About four months ago, I started hosting a monthly poetry event at the library. A college town, Lawrence is kind of known for its artistic community, and I figured there would be a large audience for something poetry related. I approached my colleague, the adult programming librarian, about developing the event, knowing she was looking to increase the number of adult programs. I had originally envisioned an open mic reading each month, and maybe inviting a professional or published poet in every know and then. My colleague suggested we give it a unique name--the Poetry Social--and come up with a theme for each reading to inspire the participants. Our first Poetry Social was held in September with the theme, "Migrations."

Each month, while I'm sitting in the gallery waiting for people to show up, I admit I get a little disheartened as the clock ticks closer and closer to the start time while only a few people walk in. However, by the end of the event, I'm always impressed with the works and conversations shared. There's a core group of people that have come to each one, and I can tell that they appreciate an outlet for their creativity. Some of them drive twenty or more minutes to participate, and I always make sure to express my gratitude for their presence. Tonight's Poetry Social on the theme "Traditions" was no different. A last minute scheduling of an author visit bumped the event from its original location in the gallery, and I thought that might deter some attendees, but my faithful regulars still showed ready to share.

I started tonight's social by showing the participants some of the poetry resources we have at the library, having pulled some collections and the current Poet's Market before the event began. Then, to spark some creativity, I played a winter meditation video from Youtube and instructed the participants to use the music and visuals as a writing prompt. When that ended, I invited the participants to share, and even though there were only five, we were there for about 45 minutes enjoying each other's poetry and thoughts. I appreciate how fitting the name we came up with for the event, Poetry Social, has come to be. Each poem sparked conversation, and we shared in a discussion on when each of us began writing. When we ran out of work to share, I thanked everyone for coming and closed the evening with my own product of the writing prompt:


Winter Meditation

All around me
naked trees stretch their limbs
in directions akimbo,
bearing testimony to
winter's harsh touch.

Icy cold fingers
dance and trip
down the notches in my spine
as my breath
heavy and moist
escapes my lips
like fog lifting into
the blue and endless expanse
of a frost bitten sky
above me.

A leaf in the snow,
my mind frozen
as I lose myself in
the season's
quiet
white noise.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I'm just a simple librarian in a high tech digital world

I've gotten to the point where I wince every time a patron walks up to the desk and asks about free eBooks or audiobooks. Even before the State Library of Kansas's contract ended with OverDrive, explaining how to get the digital content onto a device could get complicated depending on the device in question. Now with the switching of platforms, the length of my reference transactions have doubled with explanations about the new services and how some content isn't available yet, or even compatible with some devices--the most notorious being the Amazon's Kindle products. It's kind of disheartening to see people's eyes light up at the prospect of free eBooks and then have to explain that they're not available yet, and that we're not even sure when or if they will be compatible with Kindles.

In a matter of two hours this morning, I must have had four patrons asking about digital content. One brought in her Kindle Fire hoping to learn how to download audiobooks from the State Library's new provider, OneClickdigital, directly to it. After trying to figure out her log in information and ultimately having to reset her password, we managed to log in to her OneClickdigital account, only to determine that it wasn't going to be possible for her to download files directly. She'll actually have to buy the USB cord not included with the original purchase, download the eBooks to her computer, figure out if they're the incompatible WMA files or compatible MP3 files, and then transfer them to the Kindle. For some of our older patrons who are just now bridging the digital divide, that isn't as easy as the State Library's new site title, "Kansas EZ Library" implies.

But I guess that's what I'm at the library for, right? I'm just glad that I have the knowledge and experience to be able to help patrons figure it out, and though sometimes I feel like it's the blind leading the blind, they usually end up leaving with most of their questions answered. And I always let them know if they discover they have more, they're always welcome to come back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mmmm! Tater tot casserole!

"Everything changes, but as it changes there is one immutable thing and that is the larger rhythm. The rhythm of all that is." -Jewel, Chasing Down the Dawn

I'm sitting at the reference desk with a belly full of tater tot casserole, deviled eggs and freshly brewed Dunkin' Doughnuts coffee, having just come from the Staff Holiday Breakfast. This year, in the absence of the person who has probably done it for the past 10 years or so, I got to help plan and organize the event with two of my colleagues from Technical Services. This last quarter has kind of had a focus on change: the library is getting ready for an upcoming renovation and expansion project, the theme of our in-service day was "Transformations" and finally, Nancy, Cecilia and I decided to change things up quite a bit with holiday breakfast. As with any major change in an organization, we feared there might be a negative response, but sitting here reflecting on the event and recalling some comments, I can say it was no where near as bad as we had thought it might be.

Traditionally, the main activity for the morning, besides the potluck breakfast, has been a White Elephant Gift Exchange. That was our biggest change. Instead of sending people away with tacky, often times useless things that end up getting re-gifted the next year, Nancy, Cecilia and I decided we wanted to support our adopted family, as well as our local businesses, by having a donation and drawing. For each non-perishable food item the staff members brought for the family, they got up to five chances in a drawing for gift certificates to La Prima Tazza, The Raven Bookstore, 715, African Adorned, and Local Burger. We also wanted to make sure everyone walked away with something, so we made certificates for the spring Friends of the Library book sale.

Overall, I think it went pretty well (as I was writing this, a coworker exclaimed over how much more lively the event seemed this year!). Nancy had the great idea of hanging huge ornamental snowflakes from the ceiling, we got blue and silver tablecloths, and a great white floral arrangement for a centerpiece. I really wanted the breakfast to be a reflection on the past 12 months and a celebration of the end of the year. To help with this, I put together a PowerPoint slideshow of pictures that had been taken throughout the year with snowflakes that would periodically fall down the screen and projected it for a visual. Conversations were great, everyone was very appreciative for the gift certificates, and the food was delicious! It's events like these that make me appreciate all the more my job and the people I work with.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

You're never too old for Seuss!

Much too excited about my next display project, I wasn't able to sleep in any longer this morning--so I decided to blog about it! Last week, a colleague from Youth Services emailed my supervisor with a great idea to put up a display in the adult area featuring children's books that adults love, and I volunteered to put it up in January. And how appreciative I am of her suggestion, because I was having a little bit of trouble thinking outside of the "January is National [insert random noun] Month!" box for next month's display. As a lay in bed, futilely trying to fall back to sleep, I started thinking about a clever title and imagining the sign and props. Now, I won't go in to great detail, but I'm thinking big--like, The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Where the Wild Things Are big! Reflecting back on my undergrad years again and a bulletin board display one of my classmates made for a children's literature course, I may borrow her idea and even pull out some papier-mâché if I find the time and resources to do so! As for the books that will be featured on the display, I'm hoping my YS colleague, who volunteered to put together the list, will include some of my favorites:

This first title I love and adore so much, I decided to have the cover illustration tattooed on my arm! I was in college when I first read Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, and I can't think of a better time to have read it. The story is about a disenchanted pilot who has an enlightening encounter with a little prince after his plane crashes, leaving him stranded in the Sahara. On a journey to experience the universe, the little prince comes to Earth from a tiny, far away planet. On the verge of becoming a full-fledged adult, I learned from this book the value of holding on to a childlike imagination and appreciation of the world. I related well to the journeys of both the pilot and the the prince, and appreciated the several lessons like one the prince learns from a fox while traveling the universe: "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye." Every time someone notices the tattoo on my forearm, I always take the opportunity to tell them about this great read!

I've thought about getting a tattoo inspired by this next title too. This book brought to my attention that there can be two types of people in the world: those who give and those who take. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, which chronicles the relationship between a boy and a tree, has been considered by some to be controversial because of its depiction of a compulsive giver and a predatory taker. As the boy grows, the tree is constantly providing for him branches to swing on, shade to sit in and fruit from its branches. Though the story has caused me to reflect on how much I have given or taken in some of my relationships, I do think that may be taking it a little too far. The unconditional, self-sacrificing love the tree has for the boy, which continues into his adulthood and elderly years, has always inspired me to be better in my own interactions with the people around me, whether I'm giving (gifting) or taking (receiving), and I don't think that's a bad lesson to learn.

This last title is often given as a graduation present, and I've even witnessed it being read at a wedding. "Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed. (98 3/4% guaranteed.)" Filled with encouragement and sound advice, Dr. Seuss's Oh the Places You'll Go! is perfect for anyone who's about to take their next big step in life's journey. The narrator relates the decisions and paths of an unnamed protagonist, generally understood to represent the reader, as he travels through colorful, geometrical landscapes. All throughout the book, the narrator offers such adages as “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.” and “Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you." I received the book myself after graduating from high school, and I've treasured it since.

There are many other children's titles that I enjoy, and I'm sure many feel the same way, so I'm pretty sure this display's going to be popular. Now that I've got it all planned out, part of me can't wait for the next three weeks to be over so I can start working on it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The perfect place to be

On my way back to work after lunch this afternoon, I decided to scroll through my iPod's playlist for my new favorite song, Kimya Dawson's The Library featuring Aesop Rock from her newest album, Thunder Thighs, and play it loudly to encourage a favorable mood for returning to my workplace. Nothing like a little affirmation of one's calling in life as when your favorite artist advocates the institution for which you work through his or her artistry! I've always admired Kimya for her passion for music and her uninhibited desire and willingness to share whatever's on her mind through melody. This song has made me appreciate and adore her all the more!

The lyrics present several things you can do or get at the library and many reasons why the library's "the perfect place to be." They even give props to the people at the library who are there to help you--the librarians! I especially love the reference transaction in which a patron is looking for books by Judy Blume and the helpful librarians respond, not only with the location of the books in question, but with other great suggestions too! Every time I listen to it, I start to imagine what the music video would look like: Kimya, surrounded by children and puzzles and stacks of books, and a quirky librarian with the horn rimmed glasses, cardigan and bun letting loose and dancing on the reference desk!

As I was walking up the steps to the front entrance of my library, with the song still replaying in my mind, I felt as if it was continuing in real time. A mother and her two children were ahead of me, and the little boy was excitedly explaining, "...and you can find a movie to watch while we go play on the computers!"


Some guys are only about that thing, that thing, that thing!

It's an all too familiar story. Guy goes to house party 'cause he heard a real hottie's gonna be there. Guy gets smashed. Guy approaches said hottie, drunkenly professes his love to her and throws himself on her. Said hottie freaks and flees.

In the last post, I said that I would probably find some reason to dislike Vinicius, the nephew of the spoiled Roman nobleman, Petronius, in Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis. It didn't take long. After learning of Petronius's scheme to have Ligia sequestrated by Nero, the Roman Emperor, Vinicius planned to comfort and woo her at a celebratory feast that Nero held at his palace. And some party it turned out to be. A drunken orgy, as to which it was actually referred. Needless to say, Vinicius drank a little bit too much wine and came on quite strongly, which understandably upset Ligia, who was just beginning to discover some feelings for the poor drunken lad.

Now I'm really curious as to how this will turn out. Hopefully, Ligia will have enough sense to stay away from Vinicius. However, it will probably be the case that Vinicius will do something heroic and Ligia will swoon and fall in love again. Then again, maybe her neo-Christian perspective and values will keep her on the straight and narrow. Either way, it will be interesting and enlightening to see how Sienkiewicz treats the female character. Will his views on the sexes be different than those held during the reign of the Roman Empire? Or will he satisfy the typical male chauvinistic archetype?

I have to admit, when I first picked up the book and flipped through its pages, I thought Quo Vadis was going to bore me to tears. And the first few pages didn't convince me otherwise. However, I'm happy to say that it's actually turned out to be a very engaging read, and despite my unfavorable feelings for some of the main characters, I somewhat enjoying the storyline. So maybe I can understand how it came to be considered one of history's greatest best sellers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The curse (or blessing) of miscommunication

This morning was probably one of the most hectic I've experienced while working in a library. Usually we have three or four reference librarians and assistants to cover the desk, but today two of them called in and one had gone to see President Obama in Osawatamie. That left me, my supervisor and our programming librarian to cover the desk. All would have been fine, if it weren't for the computer class and webinar scheduled for the morning and early afternoon as well! And on top of that, it seemed as if every patron that called or walked up to the reference desk needed in depth research or at least five books or movies that they wanted to track down. Needless to say, I'm kind of pooped.

Our class was on OneClickdigital, the new downloadable audiobook platform available from the State Library of Kansas. There were only four people registered, so I was kind of hoping that half of them wouldn't show up (which is usually the case) so I could cancel the class and go back to helping out at the desk. Thanks to our relatively new email newsletter, Connections, and a listing in the Lawrence Journal World, though, eight unregistered patrons showed up for the class, unaware that they needed to reserve a seat beforehand. And so, not wanting to turn willing and eager learners away, I continued with the lesson as planned--and in retrospect, I'm glad that I did. In the process of trying to explain this new service, I learned a few things myself, and it's always good to see the computer lab near capacity for our classes. Also, the public speaking practice was an benefit too! I've always been fortunate to have patrons who are patient with my tendency to speak too fast, my inability to stay somewhat on track and other public speaking quirks and no-no's of mine.

After the class, I had another hour on the desk and then just 30 minutes to prepare for the Foundation Center webinar, Grant Speaking Basics, that one of my colleagues who called in sick was schedule to host. Fortunately, all I had to do was make sure the computer and projector screen was set up properly and pass out the handouts. By this time, though, I was quite exhausted and I admit a few yawns escaped my mouth--not for a lack of interest, though. Thanks to the hard work of my colleague, the Lawrence Public Library is now a cooperating collection for the Foundation Center, and we can provide lots of useful information for nonprofits and individuals seeking grants.

As hectic as this day may have been, it did make the time go pretty quickly. As much as I love working at the library, some days I, too, appreciate quittin' time. Just thirty more minutes now, and I get to call it a day!

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

If there's one thing I love about being a librarian, it's making displays. Back when I thought I wanted to be a teacher in college, the idea of making bulletin boards to promote authors or books excited me, and I'm happy that even though my desire to teach elementary or high school students had waned, I still get to promote materials in this way. I don't really consider myself all that crafty, but I enjoy designing and making signs and using props to catch the attention of patrons. The purpose of our displays at Lawrence Public Library is to market the materials and get patrons to check them out. For this month, I just finished putting up a holiday themed Staff Picks display. Using a pretty metallic blue, generic holiday wrapping paper from my closet at home and a simple sign, I decorated one of our display shelves to promote favorite items in our collection chosen by some of our staff. In the spirit of sharing picks, below are some of the titles that I chose for this display.

I love telling people about this first title. A super model who drives herself to the hospital after getting her lower jaw blown off in a tragic accident meets a transsexual undergoing speech therapy who calls herself Brandy Alexander (and many other names) and runs away with her to Canada. There, one distracts real estate agents touring mansions while the other steals medications from the bathrooms to sell in night clubs. Generally it pretty much hooks the reader. Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk is probably one of my all time top picks--I remember first reading it in one sitting at an overnight job I had right out of college. Whether it's the awesome character development, the intense imagery and detail, or the many random facts thrown in the mix, everything about the book just pulled me in. And the little bits of wisdom! My favorite scene from the book is when the narrator and Brandy are at the top of Seattle's space needle flinging postcards off the edge of the structure. On the back of each they scribble secret truths like "All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring." and "If you love something, set it free. Just don't be surprised if it comes back with herpes." Love it!

I don't typically read non-fiction, but every now and then when I'm scanning the new titles that come into our catalog, I'll find one that sparks my interest and I'll check it out. Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher was one of those titles. My senior year of undergrad at Graceland, I took a course called "Language and Culture," by individual study with Dr. Jerri DeNuccio, the chair of the humanities department. For a couple of hours a week, I sat in his office and discussed readings on linguistics and the effects of language on culture. Through the Language Glass brought me back to those weekly sessions. With colorful examples and anecdotes, Deutscher makes the case that culture does influence language and vice versa and that different languages can lead their speakers to different thoughts. Even if I didn't have my undergraduate background, I wouldn't have been lost in Deutscher's explanations and that's what, I think, makes a nonfiction read great.

I love a good dystopian novel. I loved Lois Lowry's The Giver, Jeanne DuPrau's The City of Ember, and most recently, Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games series. But one futuristic satire that I really enjoyed was Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. A thought provoking, and kind of startling, look at how our focus on commercialism, capitalism, and youth can and may lead to the deterioration of the individual to clueless, superficial droids obsessed with pleasure and living forever. In some ways I really related to the main character, Lenny Abramov, an enthusiast for those dusty, moth eaten things nobody uses anymore--books. He just wants to fit in and make his 20-something Korean-American girlfriend love him, and it's with his "Super Sad True Love Story" that Shteyngart illustrates the catastrophes of the age of information gone wrong.

Pecola Breedlove is the central character of my last pick. I first met and adored Pecola at the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theater in Chicago on an Honors Program trip back in October of 2006. I was touched by Alana Arenas's portrayal of an eleven year old girl struggling with her own image and the societal pressures to confirm to "true" beauty that surrounded, strangled and oppressed her. Pecola is from Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, an honest, intense look at how popular culture and its focus on Caucasian as beauty can skew the self image of young, African American girls (or anyone who doesn't fit into the blue-eyed, blond hair box) to the point of unhealthy obsession. The following semester, I read the book for a seminar class taught by Professor of English, Dr. Barbara Hiles Mesle, focusing solely on Morrison's novels, and it instantly became one of my favorites. I loved it so much that it was the focus of my term paper at the end of the semester titled, "Peices of Pecola: The Bluest Eye Reflects the Struggle of Beauty and Self Love in All." I actually loved all of Morrison's books and will probably end up putting them all on the Staff Picks display at some point if it's popular enough.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Quo Vadis or Whither goest thou?

After a brief distraction with Haruki Murakami's newest, 1Q84, (a mammoth of book that I would have spent weeks finishing reading if it weren't for the limited 2 week check out period and the inability to renew because of holds...), I've found my way back to my Nobel reading list. Having to acquire the past few titles through interlibrary loan, I can't express my relief and surprise that my next book, W.S. Kuniczak's translation of Henryk Sienkiewick's Quo Vadis, was available at my library! And what acclaim the title has! From the back of the book: "Written nearly a century ago and translated into over 40 languages, Quo Vadis has been the greatest best-selling novel in the history of literature."

According to the Wikipedia article about him, Sienkiewicz is often misunderstood to have won the Nobel prize in recognition of Quo Vadis. However, in agreement with my previous understanding that the award is usually given in recognition of a writer's body of work, the committee only attributed "his outstanding merits as an epic writer." A Polish journalist and author, Sienkiewicz was well known for his historical novels, many of which appeared as series in newspapers (Wikipedia). Like one of the previous Nobel prize winners, Frédéric Mistral, he too had a passion for the authenticity of his native language.

I'm about six chapters into the reading, and right know, I can't say that I care much for a couple of the main characters. Not that they're not well developed. I just find them kind of despicable. Petronius (the name makes me think of Harry Potter and the Patronus Charm) lives in the lap of luxury as a Roman noble with his slave masseurs, private baths, and succulent feasts. When his nephew, Vinicius, a Roman soilder, expresses his obsession, or "love," for Ligia, a woman who grew up in the household of another noble as a hostage given to the empire by her people, he manages to rip her from the family she grew up with so Vinicius can woo her.

Now, I understand the historical context in which the book was written, but it still disturbs me when women are treated like materials that can be traded, stolen or bartered for (or anyone for that matter). The wannabe philosopher he is, Petronius even contemplates whether women have souls like men or are like animals. This is why I find him detestable. His nephew's alright...but I'm sure I'll find some reason to dislike him too. Despite these character flaws, I'm appreciating the historical look at the Roman civilization--it's not too often that I read historical fiction. On with the read!