Every so often, a grave and concerned person will ask (as, in fact, the New York Timesasked last year): “Do We Still Need Libraries?” Hasn’t the Internet kind of, you know, ended all that? Aren’t libraries falling behind?
Tellingly, the Times could find no one to argue against libraries, and that mirrors American sentiment pretty much exactly. A new Pew study finds that not only do Americans adore libraries, but a majority of us think they’re adjusting to new technology just fine.
As my colleague Svati Narula reported, some 94 percent of Americans say that having a public library improves a community and that the local library is a “welcoming, friendly place.” 91 percent said they had never had “a negative experience using a public library, either in person or online.”
These sound like incredible approval ratings for any U.S. public institution. So I wondered: Just how incredible are they? How do other icons of Americana compare?
Using exclusive and highly accurate statistical analysis techniques, I endeavored to find out. Here are the results:
That’s right. Public libraries not only rank more highly in the American psyche than Congress, journalists, and President Obama, but they also trump baseball and apple pie. Public libraries are more beloved than apple pie.
When Miles “Pudge” Halter, a tall skinny teenager who is obsessed with the last words of famous people, decides to leave his home in Florida to go to Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama, his parents are quizzical. His mother asks him if it’s because he doesn’t have friends. His father, who attended the school himself, asks if it’s to follow in his footsteps. While Pudge has never been particularly socially adept and does see some appeal to the life descried in his father’s stories of his high school days, neither of theses things are the reason Pudge wants to go to Culver Creek. Instead the best way Pudge can describe his decision to attend Culver Creek is through the last words of famous poet. Francois Rabelais whose last words were “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” Pudge further explains, “that’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.” Culver Creek seems to be even more of an adventure than Pudge could have ever expected. He meets Alaska, a brilliant, beautiful, and wildly self-destructive girl that Pudge comes to believe he is in love with, despite the fact that she remains completely out of his reach. Pudge also comes to room with the Colonel (Chip), an in credibly intelligent prankster that is also friends with Alaska. At Culver Creek Pudge becomes friends with Alaska, the Colonel, Takumi (a Japanese exchange student with a great sense of humor that loves to rap), and Lara (A quiet Romanian immigrant). As a group the fives students get together and pull pranks. While this is hardly the great perhaps Pudge could have anticipated (for the first time Pudge has a sense of danger; he finds himself acting recklessly and breaking the rules, something he’s never really done before), but he loves the adventure he’s plunged himself into. Then disaster strikes. There’s a reason the book is split into two sections, before and after. As Pudge’s world is plunged further into chaos the boy obsessed with last words has to consider what it means to be mortal.
Looking for Alaska is completely unique. A mix between clever humor and philosophical consideration, Looking for Alaska quickly becomes the book you don’t want to put down. Ever. Throughout the before section the reader is delighted by the antics of Pudge and his friends. Their adventures, while somewhat par for the course for a boarding school novel, enthrall readers. Their relationships are entertaining and realistic. The before section of the book is filled with humorous phrases that my friends and I still quote to each other in passing. That said, while among the most entertaining things I’ve ever read, it’s still obvious that something much darker is on the horizon. The before chapters go by like a count down. As the numbers decrease it’s obvious that something massive is on the horizon. There’s also the occasional utterance suggesting the darkness that, as we are constantly aware, is still to come. By the time the reader reaches the after portion of the book the reader is emotionally invested. This means that just as Pudge finds himself shocked and devastated, so does the reader. As Pudge considers the idea of mortality and deals with guilt, the reader feels as though she is experiencing the crisis with them. Looking for Alaska makes the reader think and feel in a way that is pretty much unparalleled by any other novel. I can, without hesitation, say that Looking For Alaska is among my favorite novels. I can also promise that in this regard I am in no way unique.
OH, a fun note: whether you do or don’t read Looking For Alaska, I highly recommend looking into its author, John Green. He shares a YouTube account with his brother, Hank Green, and together they’ve created a community. Both John and Hank are among the funniest, smartest, and most inspirational people imaginable. Each of their videos is also worth watching. Their YouTube channel is called vlogbrothers.