Football and translation: Observation notes 57-59

Observation note 57: Football crazy. I went to the movies with my family tonight. This is a rare occurrence in this age of streaming on our own devices. The last time all four of us went to the films together was when I wanted to watch Bridget Jones’s Baby a few years back. This time, in a similar vein, we watched King Otto with its fabulous byline of “Ancient Greece had 12 gods. Modern Greece has 11”. The movie is a sports documentary about the German coach Otto Rehhagel, his bilingual assistant coach Ioannis Topalidis and the Greek National Football Team winning the Euro 2004 Cup.

Observation note 58: Football mad. My family is totally and utterly football mad. They watch at all hours, they are members of their team, Sydney FC, they go nuts in the member’s cove, they travel nationally and internationally to see their teams play and frankly it all got a bit intense several years ago when my eldest, unfortunately, was seriously assaulted at a derby game. These apples of my eye have not fallen all that far from my tree as I was football mad in my youth too with the ultimate kudos of having sat directly in front of Maradona (who was in the member’s box) at a local game in Sydney. I am a potty-mouthed fishwife at the football as I forget myself and start heckling the teams (my sons never realised the reason I read books during games is not because I am bored but because I get so intensely enraged in the game I forget my manners at home). I too come from an apple orchard as my father was in love with the game and was one of the (many) founders of PanHellenic in Sydney in the 1950s. Though a religious man who taught at his parish’s Sunday School, he was so mad for football, that when the leaders of the church Sunday Schools asked him to give up his role with his football team as they felt he was a bad example the the children, my dad quit going to church instead. So it was only apt that we went to see this movie.

Observation note 59: Football it has robbed her of the little bit of sense she had. Though the movie on the surface is about how Greece, the most underrated and the underdog team of Europe won the cup, it actually is about how the strength of an excellent translator (On first looking into Chapman’s Homer anyone???), who has deep knowledge of two very different languages and cultural mores, was able to bring an understanding between a German coach and a Greek football team. Throughout the movie, I was on the edge of my seat. Despite knowing the outcome, the narrative is told so well that the tension of each game is palpable, each goal thrilling, every emotional celebration fulfilling. The hero of this movie is not only the coach and the team members, but the extraordinary Ioannis Topalidis who brings a deep cultural understanding to his role of translator and assistant coach. I loved the way the language barriers were depicted in this movie, and even more so how the barrier was overcome which led to the best of German and Greek cultures being blended. Topalidis and Rehhagel seem to have a wonderful relationship (dare I say this was a bromance movie) with King Otto’s ending being reminiscent of Casablanca. I loved it. This may be because of my Greek heritage. But then again, it may just be because it is a story well told.

On Reading: Reading the 21st Century

Every day and throughout the year, I spend a substantial amount of my time reading about reading. From scholarly articles to academic books to chronicles of reading and reading memoirs. I am going to post a series of short observations on the books (and the occasional articles) that I have been reading particularly reflecting on the presence (or lack thereof) of romance fiction, and on how I feel my perceptions of reading aline with the authors.

Reading the 21st Century

Reading the 21st Century

Reading the 21st Century: Books of the decade, 2000-2009 
by Stan Persky
published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011.

I should have posted this blog last night. Instead, my son and I had an all out battle on SingStar. We belted out power ballads and I wiped the floor with him thanks to Bonnie Tyler and Queen. In some cases we sang songs familiar to both of us and in other instances we sang songs new to us. What blew me away though was my son singing Naughty by Nature’s O.P.P. The rapping is phenomenally fast in that song. My son has only heard it a couple of times yet he was able to keep up with the text flying across the screen – I could not. Earlier in the day he spent a few hours reading his fifth novel for the summer holidays – Suzanne Collins’s Catching Fire (“it isn’t as good as the first one, mum”). I also know that amongst his feeds and apps he subscribes to daily Sports news (as a teenaged sports nut is wont to do) and SBS News (“you have to have a balanced world view, mum”). He had also watched five episodes of Community with the captions turned on. I consider my son to be an average reader. Continue reading

So many Johns

This is a belated postscript to Ripping the Ass out of Vassiliki

I had an great reaction to my post about my name with lots of comments and people posting their name stories on their own blogs which made for interesting reading. Something I did pick up on was that many people seemed to think that the habit of changing names was an exclusively “Anglo” thing. I don’t agree. This happens across all cultures. People have a predilection to adapt names, traditions, behaviours to fit within their own comfort zones.

There is a wonderful book called “So Many Henrys” by Letta Schatz with trippy seventies illustrations by John Kuzich.

So Many Henrys

In this book Henry Emory Demery discovers that he is not the only person with the name Henry. From realising that he shares the same name with his grandfather, Henry then travels the world to discover all the many variations to his name. I loved reading this book to my sons as we would replace Henry’s name with either Peter or Paul and we would continue the journey discovering the many variants of their names and to this day I will call out to them choosing the country of the day from Boutros to Ferris and Pablo to Pol.

My husband’s name is John. Yes John – with a silent “h” not a silent “athan”. He is of an English background, named for his grandfather and great-Uncle who used to tell his mum “Every child should have an uncle John”. As an aside – I have 5 uncle Johns, many of my cousins, friends and even a nephew are called John and many friends and relatives are married to Johns often necessitating me to say “My John” which can somewhat be misconstrued. My uncle John, who is married to my Aunt Vassiliki (I kid you not), would say

Σπιτι χωρις Γιαννη, προκοπη δεν κανει – A house with out a John, makes no progress

John is such a great and flexible name yet it seems to be out of fashion with the current generation. Whether that is because all their father’s are already called John and we will have a new wave in the next generation remains to be seen.

When my John met my mum she told him that his name in Greek is “Yianni”. My mum calls him both John and Yianni, which my husband tells me he loves.

John, Vassiliki, Vassiliki and John - my husband and I with my uncle and aunt namesakes :)

He has no issue with my many Greek relatives that have Hellenised his name. And I am sure that had I been Italian he would have been Giovanni, or French to Jean or Russian to Ivan and Sean or Ian or Zane or Ewan or Juan, Hansel, Jack, Johan, Jan, Vanya and so on…

I don’t think that changing names to fit within a cultural norm is the domain, nor an act of oppression deliberately brought on by Anglos. Every culture does it. The change can be a comfort, a diminutive of sorts. How we feel about having our name changed is unique to all of us. Some of us balk at it and others love it and in no way can it be predicted by our cultural background.

Thanks to Sandra Antonelli for her assistance with this post. She too has her own John.

I’m in a library (or am I?)

I had an interesting exchange with my son the other day. He was doing a school assignment on life in Ancient Egypt and having the boffin information maven mother that he has been blessed with, he knew he needed to log on to “authoritative information”. I had spent some time with him earlier in the week showing him how to log into library databases rather than using free to the web resources.

My son called out to me to say that he couldn’t find the Ancient and Medieval History database on the website so I went over to him and saw that he had clicked on the “In Library Databases”. Now, by late Thursday afternoon I was already fed up with Ancient Egypt and my son’s assignment so I was a tad cantankerous when I snarkily said to him “Why did you choose the In Library Databases. You need the At Home ones. Are you “in” the library?” Bless my gorgeous son who ignored my sarcasm and said “But Mum – I am “in” the library. Look” and he pointed to the library URL. It is at this point I cringed at my Old Skool 20th Century concept of place, apologised and led him through to the resource he needed.

This did lead me to think about when I am physically “in” a place or virtually “in” a place. For me being “in” a library still means being physically “in” a bricks and mortar building. Yet, for most people, it is the library website that is their first port of call. For many users, once they have received their library card, it is their only port of call. So calling library resources “In-library” and “Home access” – I did a quick (oh so scientific) survey of 6 library services and they all used these terms – is catering towards an older user demographic and not towards younger users whose concept of being “in” a place differs substantially. To add to that, often those valuable In Library/Home resources are secondary to the library catalogue – a tool which necessitates a physical visit to the library to use the resource found. This seems a tad ass-end backwards to me.

From that thought, I moved to my sense of having my nose buried “in” a book. When I visualise this, I have in my mind myself as a reader with book open, nose seemingly pressed against the crease of the open book mind completely focused on the words on the page. Somehow, my nose buried “in” an ebook lacks the same sense of hiding amongst the pages for me. Have I been lost “in” an ebook? Absolutely. I am lost “in” digital reading for hours every day. There are days I need to be reminded that it is time to feed myself and any other dependents that may be around me. But I don’t physically feel as though the ebook provides a shelter for my mind. It is not a space I hide “in”. I could not hide my face in an ebook should it make me cry in public (because we have all been there, damn you Barbra Conklin’s PS I Love You). But in neither experience – traditional print or ebook – am I physically “in” the place that I am reading about. As much as I may escape, or be lost in the story, unless I am reading in situ I am not really there.

I spend hours travelling the world on Google Maps. I discover small towns, I follow roads, I enter places that I doubt I will ever physically visit. Do I consider myself to be “in” those places? My answer is No. I am “in” Google Maps but not the place I am exploring. I need to physically experience that place to be there. Just as I am not really in my books.

However, online gaming allows you to be “in” that space. Whether you are playing Fifa 13 or World of Warcraft or Assassin’s Creed the only place to have this experience is online. As a sideline you can have cosplay, you can attend fan conventions however the virtual space is the primary space.

With these other examples in mind, I am thinking again of the public library as a physical place or as a virtual space*.  The reality is that, unlike the chicken and the egg, the physical place did come first so it is natural that our terminology is still couched with a bricks and mortar mindset. Though the industry has shifted, public library websites need to become the creative library branch where users add value to the site rather than purely being recipients and searchers of information. Some libraries already have some user led content creation particularly in the area of local studies and oral histories but this is mainly engaging with older generations (which is great in itself but needs to now be expanded upon). It won’t be until user led content creation for libraries is driven by youth, who are already engaged in creative screen based and digital culture and already think of the library website as being the main entrance, that the local public library will be a a primarily virtual place for the community to get lost “in”.

*I want to take a moment to highlight that I do not feel the same way about  State and National Libraries which are also public libraries. For many people in Australia, their only experience of the National and state libraries as a place is the website.

My books are worth their weight in silver

Like most homes, we have a small stash of 5 cent, 10 cent and 20 cent coins that pile up in a coin jar. This coin jar is used regularly so there is rarely any more money than five dollars in it. My youngest son can only take canteen money from that jar to pay for his garlic bread or frozen oranges  and I get to use my handful of silver when I head down to my local opshop/charity shop.

Books at my opshop cost anywhere from $1 to $5. I will often throw some coins in my bag and head down to buy myself a book. When I did this today, I was overjoyed to find some Charlotte Lamb, Carole Mortimer, Anne Mather and Penny Jordan reprints on sale. These were reprints from their later books but even these reprints are nearly 10 years old and out of print. I counted my silver and found I had enough money to buy 3 books, all with 2 novels in each binding. I chose the ones I would buy, went to the front of the shop and waited to be served. The woman ahead of me was buying some interior decorating magazines. These were being sold for $1, too. There was a woman hovering to my side and when it came to my turn to be served she said to the woman at the checkout “Give her the Mills & Boon 3 for a dollar. I just want to get rid of them”. It turns out hover woman was the manager.

Now her comment took me aback somewhat. This is an opshop. Is there a place for snobbery in an opshop? I expect a certain egalitarianism from my opshop. I have often seen Target shirts hanging beside Ben Sherman shirts here. I have seen Sportsgirl skirts next to Jigsaw skirts. Frankly, my Mills & Boons, clutched closely to my bosom, had, just moments ago, been sitting on a shelf alongside John Banville’s the Sea and V. S. Naipaul’s Half a Life (ah! the sweet irony that they still sit on those shelves unpurchased). Isn’t shopping at an opshop an opportunity to give to a charity while benefitting from finding an item that is no longer easily purchased from mainstream retailers? For others it is a way to dress and clothe themselves while on a tight budget and for others it is a thumbing it to the big corporates in an attempt to be alternative.

Now this opshop only had 20 M&B titles which is quite a low amount in comparison with the opshop in the neighbouring suburb which has hundreds. And this was a good day! It often has none. Though on the one hand I was quite excited at the lower price so I hurried over to the shelves and chose another 6 books and bought 9 books for $3 (which being doubles means that I scored 18 new books today!) I was also angered. I wanted to shake my fist at the sky and shout “How could you denigrate these wonderfully written books. How could you value them less than a three year old tattered House and Garden”. But I didn’t. I did make a comment about literature snobs after I gave her my pennies.

I am offended on behalf of my reading love. My offense won’t last long as you develop a thick skin as an out-of-the-closet romance reader. But I choose to be affronted when my reading choices meet disdain, scorn and ridicule. I am going to love my books. And they are worth their weight in silver.

Postscript: Like most people, I buy my books from a broad range of places. Retailers, online, markets, opshops and second-hand bookshops. In anticipation of anyone reading this accusing me that if I felt that strongly about Mills & Boon why don’t I buy them new I would like to say that I only buy my in print Mills & Boon at full retail prices. And they are the books that are worth their weight in gold.

Supping With the Devil that is Romance Fiction

Last week I was part of a reader’s panel at the ALIA Biennial Discovery Conference. Neither the author or reader’s panels were official conference papers. Due to many requests from conference attendees I am posting my paper here on my blog. Please note that this is a heavily edited version of the original paper I had written in response to the Call for Papers and the topics of “The book that changed your life” and “Connecting with your communities”:

I read romances for the love, the escape, for the catch of breath below my diaphragm at the anticipation of that knowing glance and the sexual tension, I read romances for the beautifully retold love cliché, I read them for they are predominately women writing for women about women. I read romances for the sheer science fiction of improbability that is possible, for its absurdist nature and absolutely for the joyful resolution, the Happily Ever After.

Choosing the romance book that changed my life for this talk today was a difficult task as I have so many that I consider seminal. I chose Sara Craven’s Sup With the Devil.

Sup With the Devil was Craven’s 23rd novel. The protagonist, Courtney, was of a privileged background but had been living on the breadline for the last 3 years due to her family going bankrupt. Courtney is being coerced to marry the nephew of the man who bankrupted her family. She remembers her grandmother’s warning that:

when you sup with the devil you should only do so with a long spoon

The story has slow revelations, hidden passions, many misunderstandings And it has love. Not only a passionate love but also a love of friendship and trust that comes from an emergent courtship.

As a teen, I quickly read out the small romance collection at my local library. When I would ask for more the librarian would kindly guide me to “better” reading choices. This was in the 1980s which were focused on reader development/education rather than the current paradigm of reader advisory which is about matching a reader to a similar experience.  I was given Mary Wesley and Maeve Binchy. Lovely reads but they were nothing like the darkness of Charlotte Lamb, Anne Mather’s torridness and Carole Mortimer’s alphabrutes.

At university, when reading was being discussed, it was literary. I read across all fiction but discussing romances was considered only one step away from being illiterate. Fine if you weren’t smart enough to read anything else. I also started to explore academic papers on the romance reader which I did not agree with. What these papers did was anger me because everyone seemed to think that there must be a psychololgical reason to read romance. Romances meant I was subjugated. Romances meant I expected a male to rescue me. Romances meant that I was not a feminist. You read to learn and develop and the attitude was that you couldn’t possibly do that with romances.

As a reader, I gave up on accessing my books from my library early on. I bought all my romances from newsagencies, supermarkets, second hand bookstores, bookshops, markets, online and swapping books with friends. As a romance reader I am not unique in this behaviour.

There are impediments to borrowing from the library such as the cataloguing of paperbacks. Records are basic. The practice for many public libraries used to be a “Romance Fiction” title with barcodes attached for individual items. Basically, the romance is not searchable. The argument always goes along the lines of “we have budget constraints”, “these books are junk”, “the readers don’t remember them”.

Cataloguing of literary fiction, which sells less than a third of that of romance, is comprehensive yet romance is not catalogued to the same level.

This single catalogue record/many accessioned items impacts the reader experience of the library. The inability to search for items is not a positive library experience. I attended the Australian Romance Readers Convention in 2009. I was discussing public lending rights with an Australian Mills and Boon author. Her comment was “My books don’t get catalogued. As they are rarely searchable I don’t recieve PLN payments”. This writer has 16 books published in Australia and translated in over 10 languages worldwide. This decision to not catalogue does not only impact readers – it impacts authors and their impression of libraries.

Let’s look at the language librarians use:

Here are 2 large print Mills and Boon Christmas trees. Both libraries posted these on their social networks.

The first one is a romantic tree. Straightforward. Objective.

The second tree – “I know you romance readers will disagree with me but have u ever seen a better use for a mills and boon”. This statement that these books purpose as an aesthetic, decorative object is preferable to their content may be tongue in cheek and having a bit of fun but what message does it send to the recipient of that social media?

To the romance reader, it sends the message that their reading choices are inferior. To the non-romance reader it sends the message of librarian (authority figure) is disdainful of romance therefore romance must be inferior if said authority figure says so. As librarians, do not underestimate the authority that you command.

Another example, I was approached by a librarian who wanted romance recommendations for a display he was preparing. I suggested Jennifer Crusie was a good start and his comment was “Oh. But Crusie transcends the romance genre. Her writing is highly commendable”.

To transcend a genre is what happens when a reader discovers that the book they have just read and enjoyed is genre fiction but they don’t want to identify themselves as having read genre.

Romance is not alone in this. Margaret Atwood has transcended fantasy. Peter Temple has transcended crime. I dislike transcends. I prefer to use the phrase “these authors benchmark their genre”. Jennifer Crusie is a benchmark of romance. As librarians the language we use when discussing reading with our patrons and our colleagues needs to be objective. Patronising only results in less patronage.

On Legal Deposit in Australia and NSW:

The National Library of Australia has the most comprehensive romance collection in Australia as they catalogue all the titles they receive through legal deposit. The State Library of NSW fully catalogues all romances written by Australian authors which then become part of the Mitchell Library collection. Other titles by non-Australian authors are not catalogued thoughthey are stored in offsite storage and accessible if you know the publisher, the month and year that they were published. Fisher Library at Sydney University however has retained few of the romances deposited with them. They’ve retained authors such as Stephanie Laurens, Bronwyn Parry, Helene Young and Anna Campbell. However, Anna Jacobs or Anne Gracie, Sarah Mayberry and Kelly Hunter all of whom are celebrated and awarded both nationally and internationally as benchmark authors in the romance genre do not have a single title of theirs held at Fisher Library along with a number of other Australian women authors published in NSW that I could list let alone looking at bodies of work by specific international romance authors that a scholar may be interested in studying. But I was placated by the librarian I spoke to with“we have a great crime collection if you want to study genre”.

How does the romance reader perceive the library?

The Australian Romance Readers Association conducts an annual readers survey.

There are 2 library specific questions in this survey.

“Have you borrowed romance books from your local library this year”. 50% of respondents answered “Never”.

“Are new romance releases usually available from your local library” Only one quarter of the respondents said yes. The other quarter said no, and let’s not forget that half of the respondents never use the library.

I find this data concerning. This is a survey of engaged, committed readers. Readers who are part of a reading association, readers who follow book review sites, author websites, subscribe to newsletters, magazines and blogs so as to decide upon their next read. These are readers that engage with social media. If we are looking at the lower end of the scale these readers read 60 romances a year and this does not include their other reading interests. Yet, they don’t recognise the library playing a large, positive role in their reading experience. Half of them never use the library.

“To Sup with the devil you need a long spoon”

Libraries have treated romance readers as “the devil” for they maintain a distance from them. We see this in librarians trying to improve the readers choice, cataloguers not valuing the books the readers choose. All this is reflected in the romance readers survey responses that the library is not a provider for their reading needs.

It will be interesting to see what trends will emerge with ebook lending.  When I searched the libraries in Sydney that subscribed to Overdrive there were a substantial selection of romance titles available. That spoon is getting shorter. It is not all dire. There are libraries that know the value of the romance reader. They have strong romance collections, romance authors are on their standing author lists, speak at library events and run writing workshops. These libraries know that the big readers impact positively on their KPIs so they court the reader and romance readers love a courtship.

Towards the end of Sup with the Devil, Courtney is torn. She suspects her husband embezzled from her family but she likes him. She makes the decision that she was no longer going to hold him at bay for “to sup with the devil might hold an element of excitement”.

to sup with the devil might hold an element of excitement

This metaphor invites you to be a risk taker. Life is about using the short spoon when you are supping with the devil. And this is what libraries should be doing.

Look for the marginalised reader, look for the marginalised patron and support them and court them.  Discover those ideas that to others are distasteful, that are met with derision and make room for them in your libraries. Find your gamers, hobbyists, hackers and makers. Your homeless, your reenactors, geeks, crafsters and subversives. Look at your emerging communities and do not dismiss your established users. For Raymond Williams tells us that Culture is Ordinary. That “every human society has its own shape and its own purpose, its own meanings. Every human society expresses these, in institutions and in arts and learning”. These institutions are our libraries and libraries are our secular cathedrals and these secular cathedrals should be representing our ordinary culture. As this conference is about Discovery, I ask you to go out, discover the ordinary in our society and use the short spoon to sup with them.

© Vassiliki Veros and Shallowreader, 2012.