Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink tells the story of two academics separated by 350 years: Helen Watt, a British professor at the tail end of her career, and Ester Velasquez, a Portuguese Jew living in 1660’s London. When Helen is tasked with verifying recently discovered scholarly papers written by a mysterious “Aleph,” she hires American grad student Aaron to assist her. As Helen and Aaron realize the possibility exists that Aleph is a woman, interest in the papers escalates and the two find themselves having to fend off competing forces. Bouncing between present day England and London right before the plague, Kadish explores the inner lives of all three characters as each is pushed to save the thing they love. Booklist praised The Weight of Ink as “a richly textured, addictive novel,” while Toni Morrison called Kadish “a gifted writer, astonishingly adept at nuance, narration, and the politics of passion.”
Brendan Dowling Author Archive
Justin Dillon had a thriving career in music before moving into the field of global activism. For over ten years, he has been a key figure in the anti-slavery movement through his organizations Made In A Free World and Slavery Footprint. With his new book, A Selfish Plan to Change the World: Finding Big Purpose in Big Problems, Dillon imparts the lessons he’s learned along the way, shares his tactics for implementing change, and creating the change you want to see.
While readers might be familiar with Dana Schwartz through her extremely popular twitter parody accounts, @guyinyourmfa and @dystopianya, they will be introduced to another side of her with her charming and insightful novel, And We’re Off. Nora Holmes is set to spend the summer before her senior high school at a prestigious art institute in Ireland, the perfect place to be with like-minded students, escape the gaze of her tightly wound mother, and shed the memories of a fizzled relationship. All of this is thrown away when her mother, nursing her own wounds after a painful divorce, decides at the last moment to accompany Nora on the trip. With a deft eye for character and plotting, Schwartz crafts a winning road trip while also exploring topics like identity, creativity, and of course, mother-daughter relationships.
The focus of this issue is on fantastic failures, and boy, do I have a lot of those. To narrow it down, I will seek to define a “fantastic failure” for this column not as an instance of being extraordinarily unsuccessful, but rather as an instance of being unsuccessful that led to an important learning breakthrough. I’m fortunate to have many fantastic failures of this type, as well. I’ll focus on one in particular that stands out from deep in the past. The lessons I learned many years ago from this misstep serve as a foundation for my professional leadership and the lessons I pass on to others today.
I love a good underdog archetype. Whether they are fantastic failures or lovable losers, these characters abound in popular culture and appear in all media formats in public library collections. Readers and viewers enjoy stories of every folk who have a great idea, execute it boldly (and sometimes badly), fail spectacularly, and learn a thing or two along the way. What’s heartening is that like library staff, the one thing these characters learn is that while failure is certainly an option, giving up never is.
Failure hurts. It really, really hurts. But painful failure can be a great teacher if you have the right mindset and work in an enlightened organization. Your mindset can make the difference between making positive changes and repeating old mistakes.
In keeping with this issue’s theme of fantastic failures, we turned to some of our favorite authors to see how they had navigated disappointments in their own careers. Their sympathetic yet heartening responses are below.
Hala Alyan’s debut novel Salt Houses spans four generations in the life of a family on the West Bank, following their journey from the early 60s to the present day. Through all of the challenges the family endures—wars, invasions, love affairs, and displacement—they are held together by the luminous Alia. Equal parts headstrong and effervescent, Alia loves her family with a fierce compassion and remains bonded to them as various forces compel them to move to Kuwait, Beirut, Boston, and Paris. Alyan’s background as a clinical psychologist is evident in the novel, endowing characters big and small with an emotional complexity. The Millions praised Salt Houses as a “heartbreaking and important story” while Bustle said that it “illuminates the heartache and permanent unsettledness experienced by refugees all over the world.” Alan spoke with Brendan Dowling via telephone on April 18th.
Much has been written about the numerous benefits to be had from a failed experience at work. It’s widely thought of as a cliché in the business world to “embrace failure.” There are, to-date, eight TED Talks about learning from failure. Experts extol the virtues of analyzing mistakes in order to avoid repeating them. Many managers have procedures and policies in place that are designed to help their employees embrace failure in the name of positive change. And yet, denying failure and a reluctance to admit defeat are still the norm, from healthcare to politics, from giant corporations to small-town public libraries.
Patron bashing—i.e. venting, ruminating, gossiping—might be the greatest failure when it comes to customer service and perhaps the greatest barrier to excellent customer service in libraries. It creates a toxic, negative environment that stunts innovation, wastes time, and waters down service. If that isn’t bad enough, patron bashing is a drain on our mental and organizational health.
Contributing Editor CATHERINE HAKALA-AUSPERK is the owner of Libraries Thrive Consulting. If you’d like to write a review or if there’s a new book you’d like to see reviewed here, please contact Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org. Catherine is currently reading The Whole Town’s Talking by Fannie Flagg. Editor’s note: Public Library Association policy dictates that PLA […]
Contributor GALINA VELGACH is an Editorial Assistant for the Public Library Association in Chicago. If any new library products have caught your eye lately, please contact Galina at gvelgach@ala .org. Galina is currently reading The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. This issue of Public Libraries deals not only with confronting professional failings, but […]
With his debut collection of short stories, Big Lonesome, Joe Scapellato demonstrates a confident grasp of plot and character that is equal parts Larry McMurtry and George Saunders. Each story examines some facet of America’s West—its characters, environment, and mythology—and celebrates the peculiarities of the region with mordant wit. Publisher’s Weekly praised Scapellato as “an exceptional surrealist” while Kirkus Reviews singled out his ability to be “unpredictable, witty, and self-aware while remaining heartfelt.” Joe Scapellato spoke to Brendan Dowling via telephone on February 2oth.
Jami Attenberg’s extraordinary All Grown Up focuses on Andrea, a thirty-nine year-old who’s abandoned her passion for painting in favor of a financially safe career in an advertising firm. In elliptical chapters, Attenberg depicts the various characters in Andrea’s world: her mother, a former social activist; her brother and sister-in-law, a glamorous couple whose lives have been upended by caring for their terminally ill daughter; and the different men she’s dated. Newsweek called All Grown Up “impossible to put it down” and Booklist praised it as “stinging, sweet, and remarkably fleshed out in relatively few pages.”
Booki Vivat’s exuberant Frazzled introduces readers to Abbie Wu, a wisecracking sixth grader struggling with the transition to middle school. Her two best friends have thrived in their respective activities, while at home she is bookended by a brilliant older brother and adorable younger sister. Abbie’s voice, by turns droll and vulnerable, is bolstered by Vivat’s […]