Welcome to The Librarian Is In, The New York Public Library's podcast about books, culture, and what to read next.
Hey all! Join Crank (are we still doing the name? No? Just me?) as they discuss their book selections.
Crystal expressed FOMO over Frank's in-person book club which he savagely excluded her from (not really). Before discussing Anna Karenina again which Frank is still reading, he talked about an essay he read in The New Yorker, "The Shaming-Industrial Complex" by Becca Rothfeld.
Crystal's pick this week was The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb—a recently-published thriller set in the world of classical music.
Tell us what everybody's talking about in your world of books and libraries! Suggest Hot Topix(TM)! Send an email or voice memo to podcasts[at]nypl.org.
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[ Music ]
[Frank:] Hello and welcome to The Librarian Is In, the New York Public Library's podcast about books, culture, and what to read next. Hi, I'm Frank.
[Crystal:] And I'm Crystal.
[Frank:] Welcome everybody. And I am still reading Anna Karenina [inaudible], probably through the next episode I'm going to finish it then.
[Crystal:] For the next two years, you'll be reading Anna Karenina.
[Frank:] I know it's not that long, but it's tied to the book discussion that I'm attending about it and it meets every couple of weeks just like we do the podcast and we gave a lot of time to read the different -- it's eight books in Anna Karenina so we're -- the next round is the final two, book seven and eight. So that's why the next time will be when I finish it off, so. But I was just feeling like, oh, people who like Anna Karenina don't want to hear it anymore. So because I'm so preoccupied reading it, I also read an article that interested me in the New Yorker. And, of course, it's been completely related to Anna Karenina which I [inaudible] love to get your opinions on.
[Frank:] So, you know, I like to read little nonfiction and stuff, especially in shorter form, so I can focus on the other book I'm reading, Anna Karenina. What were you going to say? [Inaudible].
[Crystal:] How is the book discussion going?
[Frank:] It's interesting.
[Frank:] It's a small group, it's -- we're doing it in person.
[Crystal:] Small, elite group, yes. I wasn't invited, that's fine.
[Frank:] No. But -- now you know. So it's, you know, it's being led by a colleague of mine and actually who I met in my peregrinations around the system now that I'm still sort of branch library free. I haven't really returned to Jefferson Market. And I was more than happy to take up her challenge on reading Anna Karenina, so I did. And the discussions are good. It gets -- gives you a chance to think about and work out, you know, what's going on, even though I -- it's -- there's so much in this book. I mean, I don't even remember what I've talked about or if I've even told the story to a degree. And then I was like obsessed with this one part, oh, I can't wait to talk about and I was like, I think I already talked about this. So, [inaudible] we'll see.
[Crystal:] But, that's what's interesting about your book discussion secret club or whatever, this idea that it's happening over just a long period of time.
[Crystal:] Which allows you to change your mind on things as the story progresses. And I find that to be kind of interesting and how the conversations develop from one meeting to the next, right. All that to say I have total FOMO.
[Frank:] Oh don't.
[Crystal:] I mean, I was going to read it but still.
[Frank:] Oh, my God, I should have -- well, you couldn't have --
[Crystal:] I like to be asked so I can say no to things [inaudible].
[Frank:] You know, it's funny you should say what you just said because I felt a sense of guilt because this colleague was very insistent on trying to do it in-person rather than doing online. She's so much [inaudible] she was like I'm over the online thing. And I admired her a lot for that. And I was like, well, you know, we've worked together so I was like, I'll do it. And I was in -- we're doing it at New Amsterdam Library, which is far -- way farther downtown from Jefferson Market and I was so tempted to -- how I thought about inviting my book discussion, people from Jefferson Market that I've met online, you know, over the last two years, not so much lately, because I'm also just wanting to meet in person. But I didn't because I'm like, oh, they're not going to want to come down to a different branch and I wasn't sure the logistics and I was even a little bit like, are we even going to really have online? Because it's been like a month so whatever we were allowed to do in-person. I didn't know if it'd work out so I just -- I was all [inaudible] about it. And I just didn't do it. I didn't reach out to any of my people [inaudible]. I just let this colleague of mine lead the way. So I didn't even think of inviting people. Well, I did think of it but I just -- I think it just decided this was like an exploratory thing. I was surprised how odd I felt about it. And I was -- because I'm usually like, break the rules. And not really, I was more nervous about doing something in-person than this colleague of mine was. She was like this time I'm doing it. And so I think I was just sort of taking a submissive position and letting her lead away. So that was a long-winded way of saying, please don't hate me for not inviting you.
[Crystal:] No, I'd never.
[Frank:] I mean [inaudible] --
[Crystal:] I was just teasing you.
[Crystal:] Because I love to do.
[Frank:] I'm so easy sometimes. So, there you go. And then actually, you know, clumps right into like language [inaudible] deficient. Well, you said something before about changing your -- one's mind as you [inaudible] doing two books, two sections of Anna Karenina every three weeks so there's a lot of time. But, the core book two as I -- I know I've said in other sessions of this podcast is that the characters themselves change their mind all the time.
[Frank:] And like just because I'm trying to figure out why it's considered the greatest book of all time in some ways. And I think it's very much -- that it's so true to life and that people really do think themselves through but then they change and are not consistent morally or not consistent philosophically and it feels very true to life. So you recognize that sort of inner turmoil that we all have. Outwardly, we might be more -- seem more consistent but inwardly we're not. And -- so you can't really pin your hero hopes on any particular character. Like people do shift and sometimes they do things that we might think are not so wonderful. And other times they do such a wonderful thing. But speaking of me not inviting you to the book club and feeling [inaudible] stuff, I read an article in The New Yorker on the subject of shame.
[Crystal:] Oh, interesting.
[Frank:] Which -- yeah. Which has always been a word that I never quite understood. Like, it always [inaudible] a collection of other emotions rather than just one monolithic thing, which, of course, makes sense. And the article was really called why shaming has become a national pastime. And of course it has mostly to do with the online revolution, like social media revolution where a lot of this occurs. Shaming and -- which is really what this article is dealing more about shaming, which I think is a fairly -- newly, you know, newly worded phenomenon in a way because we usually talk about shame and there is an aspect of that that I can relate to Anna Karenina for sure. But it's even the word shaming, I wonder that was even used like 20 years ago, you know.
[Frank:] Like shaming, the concept certainly exists because, you know, shame, like in terms of definition, let's say.
[Frank:] This article says too, it's like -- actually here, I'm going to just read it.
[Crystal:] Wait, who's that by? Because I know that there's that book, I think was it called, You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon something or another.
[Frank:] Oh, that's interesting because the article does mention two books recently written on the subject of shame. That's not --
[Crystal:] Jon Ronson. I've read [inaudible] it was a book of essays possibly. Oh, So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. But it's not written by him?
[Frank:] No, the article --
[Frank:] -- books that the author of the article, Becca Rothfield --
[Frank:] -- brings up are How to Do Things with Emotions and another book called The Shame Machine.
[Frank:] So, I guess a lot of books on shame are being written these days. All right. So she defined shame in the article, shame is the sinking sentiment that attends deviation from widely endorsed mores, whatever they happen to be. You can be sad or elated for any reason or for no reason, but shame requires a shared social context. So the person feeling shame feels it in relation to the society in which he or she or they live or the culture they lived or what they -- they're head tells them the culture says. And I guess shaming is the outside external forces, the culture, society, whatever, actively seeking to shame an individual. So I guess where it seems like, at least for my lifetime or I [inaudible] think about in terms of shame as from the individual's point of view. But now we talk about shame, from a shaming, from the external forces' point of view.
[Frank:] And I think that's solely because of the rise of social media.
[Frank:] And a lot of that is what this article and those -- the books mentioned are about. I mean ultimately, it seems like the books are exhorting an individual to break the shame cycle and not actually engage in that cycle. They bring up a lot of classic examples of -- one of them, I don't know if you remember or heard of it, it was from 2013 and the article says something like, you know, back in the day we still had hopes for the healing effects of the internet and that the word cancellation was a fate reserved for poorly rated TV shows. There was this woman who wrote an email -- a Twitter comment on her Twitter feed, she had like a hundred and something followers, about going to Africa.
[Crystal:] Mm-hmm. Oh, yeah. Mm-hmm.
[Frank:] See, we all know and she -- it was terrible. She went hope I -- off to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white.
[Frank:] And then she got on the plane and 11 hours later, when she landed, she lost her job. She was all over Twitter. It had blew up. And there were millions or lots of comments shaming her about that tweet.
[Frank:] So she starts with that and then the article starts with that and moves on there. And then it also mentions, obviously, situations like the Harvey Weinstein situation where his public shaming turn to good as a revelation of his bad behavior. Not to say that her shaming was bad or good. I mean, the article does say a little bit that this woman who went to Africa who tweeted this tweet actually was not -- was involved in progressive causes and was a -- was often going to Africa. And it could've been read as like ironic statement on White supremacy. I mean, you could analyze in so many different ways the context sometimes doesn't matter online because it moves so quickly. And it doesn't mean like an immediately like horrible thing to say, right? But then the point -- the other point of the article is that in real life --
[Frank:] -- if you were face to face with this woman and she said something like that, let's say --
[Frank:] -- the article says that we wouldn't necessarily want her to be worldwide humiliated and lose her job if we were face to face. I think the article's making a point that in real life, we'd be like, well, that was a terrible thing you just said or did --
[Frank:] -- blame yourself. Most of us wouldn't just say I want your job gone, I want you to be shamed internationally, but it's -- so, I guess, the article's saying, it's a lot easier online and that makes sense. It's just a bigger universe. It's a global universe. I mean, anyone who has a social media platform automatically has technically a worldwide audience.
[Frank:] You know, whether it reaches them or not is another story. So -- just before I go to Anna Karenina, what are your thoughts on shaming like?
[Crystal:] I mean, it's interesting because I'm trying to think about it in conjunction with, I think maybe more historical versions of shame because I do think that there has been shame historically and it's done in often like very like violent ways, right? Where like if you're a thief, you're branded or even in the book, The Scarlet Letter, right? That kind of shame, whether or not it was like justified or -- what was the other example that I had? Oh, like the woman -- was it postwar? They were -- their heads were shaved for sleeping with German -- supposedly, you know, being in contact [inaudible] soldiers or whatever, and how that kind of like violence is perpetrated and how they are held up as people to be shamed in these different kinds of ways, often very violent ways, right? But I do think there's something about shaming in this contemporary forum of like social media where, as you said, like very like minor things that in person like maybe will just like flow by, you know, or is contextualized in different ways are kind of frozen and they take on this like huge -- like the reaction to it maybe sometimes feels much, much larger than what the actual thing is.
[Crystal:] So I think there's still similarities to historical shaming, but it is interesting to think about with this added, I don't know, intervention of like the internet and how it is like transformed, changed, and all that kind of stuff. So, I don't know, I don't really know what that means, I guess.
[Frank:] Well, I mean, like you just pointed out example -- well, I guess, you pointed out examples of shaming that were unfair or where today we would look at as unfair.
[Frank:] You know, why shave the heads of these women who supposedly fraternized with the enemy?
[Frank:] But even more so like, you know -- you know, not so long ago, you know, different groups like gay people or people of color could be shamed for who they are being in the wrong place or explore -- too vociferously pronouncing your identity. Let's put it that way.
[Frank:] And then the culture around them was approving of it. Like it was a cultural thing where you could be shamed for that, like even the act of coming out.
[Frank:] Usually is like full of shame for a lot of people because it's like, I'm sorry, I'm not who you want me to be and sorry, I'm not the who the world wants me to be. And certainly a lot of that has changed. So like the shame landscape does change. Which brings me to the question like why do we shame people? Like why do we feel the need -- and we all do it, I think, in some way even if it's just like a passive aggressive comment to someone [inaudible] and it almost feels like, just off the top of my head, which is not much left up there is --
[Crystal:] Oh, go ahead.
[Frank:] -- it's -- what was I going to say? Oh, we almost can't let, as humans, a slight go by because we feel -- maybe we feel anxious or afraid and I tend to think a lot of human behavior is motivated by fear, that we're afraid unchecked behavior that seems really wrong --
[Frank:] -- will do some real damage to people and you could say, if you [inaudible] -- to be formal, do damage to the culture in which one lives. So, you know, however many years ago, the culture could have easily said like, oh, you're gay, you can't throw it around because it's sort of disruptive and alarming to a lot of people. You can't do that. It sort of upsets the balance. Like the classic thing of like, well do your thing but just don't make a big deal of it.
[Frank:] And now it's definitely different where it's like, this is my identity and this is who I am and I mean, I want to be accepted, I demand it even. But the impulse to shame like -- like in Anna Karenina, right, it's like Anna is married, has an affair with Vronsky. Well, she -- all right, so right away everybody knows like, all right, this book's written in the 1870s, she's going to be shamed by society for having an affair and we know that he'll be shamed less because he's the guy.
[Frank:] Maybe not shamed at all. So why? Why does the culture, for example, why does a culture shame, let's say, specifically a woman or seek to shame a woman for having an affair when she's married? Does that maybe seem disruptive of the cultural norms, which is what the definition was? I guess it does.
[Frank:] Why would someone else care? Like why would we want to weigh in? And that brings to the online thing, like why with the woman who made that tweet, why would so many people feel the need to weigh in?
[Crystal:] I --
[Frank:] Answer that question.
[Crystal:] Oh, right. I mean, hearing you talk about and make that distinction too about the shaming of people who have like marginalized identities in different kinds of ways, does make me think about the use of shame as like punching down and punching up, right?
[Crystal:] -- [inaudible] with the power dynamics are. And maybe with Anna Karenina and maybe based on like the book I read and other things I've been reading recently, it makes me think about like internalized oppression in some ways too, like why is a woman shamed and also shamed by other women, too, like within a society, right, where you're reaffirming and saying that the values of this society where this woman is lower than this man or is less valuable than this man is held up, you know, rather than being broken down, right? It also makes me think about to the access to power that maybe people do get through social media where, sure, in cases where people are shamed and undeservedly so but then there are also people, like you said, like Harvey Weinstein -- stein, where sometimes we will have no recourse because the person is so powerful that the only thing that maybe they can do is try to shame them, right? And that has been, I think, led to other consequences that I think are good for society.
[Crystal:] And so I do like question the role of power in it too, for sure.
[Frank:] You actually -- yeah, I mean talked about -- actually what the article talked about, that punching up and punching down. That's a great point. And you reminded me of something like, well, this will be on later but like the -- this -- the Will Smith slap of Chris Rock at the Oscars, right? Everybody knows about that, I guess, right?
[Frank:] And what's interesting about that is -- and it relates directly to online is that -- and the article talks about this too, is that there are so many platforms for a point of view that you can find, obviously, we know this, your own preference [inaudible].
[Frank:] If you think, you know, Chris Rock was a dum-dum for saying what he said about Will Smith's wife, because she has an autoimmune disorder --
[Frank:] -- or you could say, well, Smith's a dum-dum for having the nerve to hit somebody physically especially in that kind of venue, you can find. Like I've looked on Reddit and on different tweets and there were some people taking sides and there were both sides.
[Frank:] Find your side and live there. That is a phenomenon that didn't really exist before the internet because you would have gatekeepers of information.
[Frank:] Newspapers, you'd have a select amount of letters to the editor published in them that showed different opinions but the volume would not be anywhere near it is now. So you can have -- you'd have hopefully trusted journalists writing an opinion piece.
[Frank:] And then you talk to your friends about it but it wouldn't be public. We wouldn't all of us have a platform. So, in a way, the Weinstein thing was early and that seemed to accelerate in the right way but it almost seems harder now. But even then there were different -- differing opinions. And then there were all collateral issues like people like Oprah Winfrey or people we love who were -- who fraternized with Weinstein. Didn't she know? Didn't they know? Like -- you know, then it got bigger and bigger and anything touched by him, showed you as complicit if you didn't say something then. So it just seems like it never really can end. And the article basically sums up this whole concept is like there is no off button anymore. If you can't -- one of the books says, you know, like get offline, stop engaging in that behavior and the author of the article was just like, I don't think that's possible. There is no IRL. It's just there is no off button. We're on.
[Frank:] That's the way it works. But still, it doesn't answer the question why we are motivated to do it anyway. That's what I was trying to think. I think it's just like it's an anxiety and an uneasiness when someone breaks the rules and it might even be for better or worse. It might even be -- and it's also very much contingent on the rules of the day. Like I said, you know, different social groups have evolved to more accepted, shall we say, places in society where it wasn't the case. And that was an unfair thing we would say now, but why we're motivated to even do it like a woman having an affair or, you know, a married woman having an affair, does it make us uneasy? Like -- well, does it almost even make us jealous like you broke the rules, you're going to pay for it. I wish I could but I'm not -- I don't have enough guts. Or is it, it's just like -- you know, like I personally would think myself through it and not cast shame on this person because it's none of my business.
[Frank:] But then other people would be like, it's absolutely unacceptable and you'd want to -- I want to figure out why and I don't even know those people would think they would know why. They would just be like, this is wrong. She's married. She made vows. I mean, I don't know. Well, it's their life.
[Crystal:] I do wonder if there's this like weird biological element to it where -- I feel like we have this desire to categorize things into like very easy [inaudible]. And sometimes it's really hard to sit with the complications and like nuances of a question, like something like this where you just want an easy yes or no, this is morally wrong, ethically wrong, et cetera. But I don't think a lot of these kinds of questions are realistically that easy especially as you start to get like more context of what's happening and I think people sort of reject that complexity and I do feel a little bit like social media, you know, really incentivizes you to go for the one line headline, right? Like, sort of the easy -- that's the thing that gives you like the dopamine hit and you don't necessarily take the time to sit with those kinds of questions and maybe it's like a rejection of that, of that complexity and nuance and people just want the easy answer.
[Frank:] Because it alarms us too. Like, you know, yeah, complexity is alarming and it also invites fueling a lot of feelings about oneself that you might not want to feel your own complicity, your own bias.
[Crystal:] Mm-hmm. Yeah.
[Frank:] And that's like -- yeah, we talk about it all the time about like investigate your own [inaudible].
[Frank:] And, you know, that's a tough thing for people to do. Like that's what, in this article, some of the authors of the books discuss, will say, it starts with the individual and then the author of the article said, well, how many of us are really going to do that? And then also, the interesting part about the shame in the world as it is today and the media as it is today, social and otherwise, is like, you need to share in context in order to feel shame. But then the whole divisive nature of politics is like, you know, one side could say, oh my god, like January 6 was shameful and then the other side could say, no, it wasn't. Legitimate, whatever, you know, insurrection or [inaudible] get into that. But like left and right, you know, could both say, I'm not feeling shame, you should feel shame. So that's not a shared context to this -- there's no shared context. I mean there' s no shared media really or dominant media form anymore that can set the tone for us. And certainly when I was younger, that was a problem.
[Frank:] It was like [inaudible] and I [inaudible] this before about, oh, the ivory tower of the media, you know, dictate -- a few people dictating what all of us have to think. And now that it's been democratized, so called by the internet, it's like, well, be careful what you wish for. I still long for the day of like, you know, really struggling, aspirational, respected individuals who can make commentary that we could all look to and then discuss amongst ourselves but not in such a public way because it's like one opinion is too few but a million is maybe too many. I mean, I don't know. I mean, I guess people just ignore the other silo and stay in their own.
[Frank:] I'm pretty sure [inaudible] by now.
[Crystal:] I do want to read like a Twitter response to the Will Smith slap, which I feel like was maybe the best take on it and the reason why I think it's the best take is that the person, Amanda Paris, just kind of puts out four statements and it's not really like a judgments, you know, it's just like these are things that are true. And the four statements that they write is, assault is wrong, alopecia is a painful experience that many Black women go through, it should not be joked about, the concept of being the protector can be a form of toxic masculinity, and Black women are rarely protected and deserve to be protected. And I kind of appreciated that response where it was not like Will Smith is right, Chris Rock is right, blah, blah, blah. But it's just sort like these are all truths that we all kind of have to grapple with in this situation and so I thought that was well put.
[Frank:] Well, Crystal, you're wonderful. That's true because that is a great tweet you just read because it doesn't say right or wrong, it says --gives our complexes and how you're -- like we just said here, complex everything is if you think about it and then it begs the other question like why do we have to go right to who's right, who's wrong? Like why non-binary? Like, you know, why, oh Chris Rock is wrong and Will Smith is right? And like -- and then fight about it. It's like, it was a human experience. Because I -- I mean, I thought a lot about like when he hit him, I was just like, people can hit all the time, unfortunately. It's not exactly a non-human reaction. So it's like, to treat it like it's this crazy aberration, it's not correct either. You know, that woman you just -- Amanda Paris?
[Crystal:] Amanda Paris.
[Frank:] She displayed a formidable thought process, I think, that said, OK, here's the deceivingly contradictory sides to everything and then here it is without judgment. And then why can't we leave it at that? That's -- goes back to the question of why shame at all? Because then suddenly, when I said that, why can't we leave it at that? I actually felt a little bit anxiety. Well -- well, behavior has to be punished. Like we can't -- if we let people hit each other in public, it'll just go out of control like some comedians that said, you know, oh, great, now it's open season on live comedians. Who's the next person [inaudible] to be a Will Smith and come up and hit me? Which is fear. So, maybe it is fear. It's like fear of the breakdown of the structure we want to trust.
[Frank:] I wonder if we can even handle the complexity. I think we could. People [inaudible] you described, once you think that pop of anxiety through, that I just had, you realize it's OK to let those facts sit there and not exactly seek punishment or shame either one of the parties involved, right?
[Frank:] That was a good one. So, with Anna Karenina [inaudible] by saying -- actually I know a bunch of scenarios to take about shame but --
[Crystal:] What would Twitter say about Anna Karenina?
[Frank:] Actually what would Anna Karenina say if she had Twitter?
[Crystal:] Oh, OK.
[Frank:] Because -- while I was -- why I was thinking about that because there was that one scene I know I talked of where she's given birth to her lover's child and both her husband and lover, Vronsky, are at her bedside and she thinks she's dying because she's had that experience. And how the shame situation shifts that at first, Vronsky is looking at the husband and saying like, why don't you challenge me to a duel? Why don't you make a situation of this? You're not acting like a real man. You're not behaving with the way -- we should -- you should as a wronged husband. And so he feels very sort of angry and superior. And then in that scene, Alexei, her -- the husband, has a revelation of like forgiveness. And he suddenly feels this bliss of forgiveness and he said so. And then suddenly Vronsky is shamed by like, oh, he just took the dominant position in this trio, the husband, like the stance. And Vronsky, what does he do? He goes home and basically shoots himself because he needs an act that will cleanse the feeling of shame. He doesn't -- he hurts himself pretty badly but he doesn't die and once he's recovered, he realizes, oh, I don't feel less than the husband anymore because I just say basically performed an extreme act to elevate myself out of that shame, which is crazy. And it says a lot about the society's views of what being a man is and also how we do -- I think that's a good example of how we do even in everyday life seek to maintain our position. Like maybe that's also what's at the core. It was not just maintaining society but maintaining our position in the structure. Now if we don't believe in the structure, we've lost our own power.
[Frank:] And we want power. The final thing I'll say is that Anna Karenina, which -- about the shame issue, at least where I am now, two books to the end, two sections to the end, like more than 3/4 the way through [inaudible] She felt very joyous and happy in her affair. Very conflicted and jealous and emotional but not shame. And there's one which I think is going to change. I think the culture around her is going to close in on her and she's going to feel it. Be interesting to see. But one scene particularly is that she has this sort of cahones to go to this opera or something, to the theater and -- which is a very predictable -- which is a very familiar scenario for moments especially in period pieces where people go to a public space like an opera or something and then there's a situation like the audience, you know. So she goes to this opera and is completely mortified by the reactions you heard there. That so when she steps out of her bubble of love, with her lover, and realizes that there is a society at work around her that doesn't necessarily approve and she's the sort of core brunt of it, right?
[Frank:] But it -- what Tolstoy says about Anna is not she felt shamed her core, it's that she felt offended. She said if she -- and it all sits on the paragraph, she felt offended to her soul.
[Frank:] [Inaudible] I'm going to leave it there because I [inaudible] that's so interesting that he says she's offended rather than shamed which makes me say is that she's resisting and disapproving and does not accept this cultural more around her. Whether she could articulate that or not, like she -- if someone's say, well, why are you offended? She'll go like, well -- she might not be able to say but -- and Tolstoy does not say she says but she's offended by that because she believes in her love more than anything else and that shouldn't be wrong.
[Frank:] [Inaudible] there you go. So I'll -- next time I'll wrap up Anna Karenina and move on to other passages of [inaudible] Wagner.
[Crystal:] And then you'll move on to like Ulysses or another 800 plus-page book, right?
[Frank:] My God. No. Switch gears to something.
[Crystal:] The more you talk about Anna Karenina, the more like I'm -- well, you know. It's seeming like I'm getting to know here a little bit but I appreciate like that idea of being offended and feeling like you are in a place of rights, right? And I think in some ways she is. I mean, maybe not so much the love thing which I'm like, OK, right. But the fact that like, you know, she's being treated very unfairly because her husband, if he had an affair, would not be treated in the same way and feeling that kind of like moral outrage, I imagine in that situation, I think is really fair and maybe is a reclamation of power, possibly, I don't know. Let's see how that goes.
[Frank:] Yeah, well, if don't, you know how it goes [inaudible]. We'll get there when we get there.
[Crystal:] Yeah, I'm interested how the progression happens. Should I talk about my book?
[Frank:] Yeah, of course darling. It's not always all about me.
[Crystal:] Well closely. I'd say like 3/4. I'll take the 1/4 at the end.
[Frank:] After my long, long, life.
[Crystal:] The book I did was The Violin Conspiracy and I actually bought the hard cover which was good but I usually do read e-books and I really felt the struggle because before this recording I was trying to find a particular quote and I just given up because I'm like I can't find it.
[Crystal:] Whereas, literally in the e-book I can just search for like phrases.
[Frank:] Oh, God. It's called a bookmark, a Post-it.
[Crystal:] I know I should have. I didn't have any Post-it Notes at home when I was reading it and like -- I brought the Post-its here because I was like, I'm going to find this quote, whatever, it's fine.
[Frank:] Well, dig into your soul and try to remember it.
[Crystal:] Sometimes, I just want [inaudible] sometimes technology is superior and so, that's all. But in this book, this came out this year pretty recently. It's The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb and it is a thriller set in the classical music world which I kind of loved that intersection. And the scary thing of this book is racism basically is my interpretation of it. So it follows a Black violinist named Rayquan or Ray McMillan. And in the story, essentially, you -- it starts off with him with his Stradivarius violin that's worth like $2 million, right, that is stolen and when he opens the violin case, the violin's missing instead there's a white Converse sneaker and a ransom note that's like, you need to deposit $5 million in this -- in Bitcoin, in this account, by this date in order to get your violin back. And of course he needs it back because he is playing in the -- I'm not going to pronounce this correctly. I might need your help with this, Tchaikovsky competition.
[Crystal:] Yeah, there you go in --
[Crystal:] -- Moscow.
[Frank:] Oh, OK.
[Crystal:] So he needs it back before that competition to -- in order to like play and play the way he needs to because he's very attached to his violin. And through a series of flashbacks, you kind of like learn more about the -- like five years prior, four years, three years, two years, until it gets back to present day and then the kind of thriller like runs its course. But essentially, like it starts with in his history, when he was young, he was given a broken fiddle by his grandmother that was owned by his deceased grandfather. At a certain point, he discovers that it is this $10 million dollar like really fancy violin. This kind of hits the news, right. And when it hits the news, all of a sudden, people are coming out of the woodwork who want to get a piece of that violin including his own family. So his own family includes his mother and his, I think, two uncles and two aunts who all of a sudden like object to it. They're like, well this is $10 million violin. It was really meant to be left to us when their father passed away, right, and they all want their cut. And the other interesting thing that happens is that there's this other family. It's a White family called the Marks and they are now claiming that this violin was stolen from their family. Their family who enslaved Ray's great, great, great grandfather and that the violin was stolen not given, right? And so this is also playing out the same time. And for Ray, what he -- but like all he really wants is just to play the violin. He doesn't want to sell. He like feels a real connection with it and I think that's one of the striking moments in this book is Ray's connection to the violin and to music and how that kind of like really leads him to places, right. I think it's a really realistic look at the classical music world. The author, Brendan Slocumb, I think he has a degree -- I mean, looking at the author -- or the author bio, he has a degree in music education in violin and viola and he has like taught for 20 years in schools for kindergarten through 12th grade. So he's done a lot and I think he -- you can see that knowledge in the way he talks about the music and talks about the classical world. I was going to briefly compare it to my, like, very short stints in a band but I was like, that's not really a fair comparison based on that very short experience. I appreciate like how he talks about the dedication that it involves and also the money that it involves. Like for you to be have a certain point, like I think it requires a lot of like time investments and monetary investment. He kind of emphasizes that too when he is -- the character is helping out this like music festival and there's a young Black student who comes in and has like a terrible instrument, right, that, you know, is not doing him any favors. And of course, like other things happened where Ray like is trying to mentor the student but then is accused of favoritism and all those other stuff. The other thing I really like about this book is that I think it emphasizes a lot the importance of mentorship, right. So for Ray, that meant there was one particular professor at the university that he attended who really supports him throughout his journey, Janice -- or Dr. Stevens and I appreciate that because I think that's a reminder in a lot of different fields where people may work or play in where like if you are really underrepresented, it really does help when you have somebody mentoring you through the process, right. Otherwise, you are really kind of separated and alone and, yeah, you know.
[Frank:] Well, that's neat. No, actually what you made me realize is that -- oh it sounds like it's going back to me. Over my long career, like I've always felt like libraries had such a strong role in supporting artists and art.
[Frank:] You know [inaudible] general but like I just thought about otherwise 20 years like, you know, giving people venues, you know, doing art classes where you can actually provide the supplies, things like that, like really supporting that mode of expression especially like people who are not awkward. And students, I love students, you know [inaudible] neighboring colleges and stuff. Anyway. Yeah, I'm a show stopper. It has made me think about libraries when you talked about supporting and mentorship. I think we have strong role in that actually. OK. What was the quote you wanted to find? Can you try to dig [inaudible].
[Crystal:] So, well this is kind of some of the things in the book that I felt like I kind of grappled with a little bit because I -- this is a debut work. I think it is really kind of like great as a debut work. It's really interesting. I've never seen a book that kind of has taken this take of like the thriller, right, in this classical music world and I think it's done well. But there are different aspects of it that I like [inaudible] abouts in some ways. The quote I was trying to find was his grandmother would constantly tell like the young Ray, you -- whatever happens to you in life, you always need to be respectful of others, to always be that sweet boy, to never change that, right? And he goes through a lot of hardship with, you know, his family kind of like wanting the money. This other like White family that had enslaved his family in the past, like wanting to take this thing that he cares about so much away from him. And of course there's also the question of like reparations and things like that that comes up as well. But I think there are aspects of it where he does break out with that a little, that idea of like having to always be respectful. But like the question to me is, when you're treated so horribly -- there are two terrible police encounters that he has, right? I really question the idea of like being respectful and having to be sweet when people are treating you in a dehumanizing way, right? And so I feel like that's -- what his grandmother says, it's a very real thing that is said in a lot of different kinds of communities, right? But, I think as a message, I don't like love it and I think he does push against it a little bit. And I also think that the other challenging thing about this book is that I feel like a lot of people will see themselves reflected in it but others will find it challenging because so much of the identity that is presented is really shaped by the White case, right? And so that's something that is I think can be like really triggering. Certainly, was like felt like really enraging to me at certain points when I was reading about his experience. And so, there are challenging aspects of this book. I don't know if this is a book for like everyone but I think as a debut book, like this debut thriller set in this classical music world, it is well done. But there are those questions that I still kind of have with it and I think kind of maybe require like more conversation, you know.
[Frank:] Wow. I know. So that was what the quote -- oh, I see, about being always respectful and kind.
[Crystal:] Mm-hmm. You know, I think for me, I wondered if it led a little bit too much into respectability politics, right? Which, again, is a very real thing that happens in minority communities, right? So, it's like a accurate reflection of things that are said but I just like didn't love it but, you know.
[Frank:] I know.
[Crystal:] [Inaudible] always respectful either. Like I think he really does challenge some of like that -- I think there was a police encounter where other things -- I shouldn't call encounter, it was just like straight racism, but -- that he does like push back against and when he is wronged in certain way, I think he does push back against at the end. And then I will say, the ending -- I did guess what was happening 3/4 of the way through which is not a slight against it because I feel like that should be like typical of these thrillers, right, like towards the end you start to get the answers because that's how they function. If it was a complete surprise that would be terrible. Like I have a friend who when we watch movies, she'll guess the killer like five minutes before it's announced and he's like super pleased for hisself and I'm like, I don't think that counts because I think the movie was leading you to that answer and [inaudible] too. But -- so I think --
[Crystal:] Yeah. What?
[Frank:] I never get them. I never could figure out who the killer is. Almost never.
[Crystal:] It doesn't count if you say the killer and then a character names the killer two minutes later, it's all I'm saying.
[Frank:] Too close to the revelation. But, wait. You were [inaudible] somewhere else about I think.
[Crystal:] Oh, I totally forgot. My memory is that terrible.
[Frank:] Oh, you said you -- the -- you figured it out three-quarters of the way through and that's not a diss to the book. That it's pretty much being led in that direction. And it seems like the book's about a lot of other thins than just a straight up thriller, that's for sure.
[Crystal:] I think there's a lot that talks about like family. Certainly mentorship, the role of Black women in his life too, right? Oh, I was going to say, like the -- this is maybe -- a pet peeve, maybe, I don't know. It did wrap up a little bit too like nicely and there was at the very end -- I feel like the ending could've been improved. Like it wraps up in a sort of tidy way in like a couple of pages. And then there was a epilogue. And the epilogue, I'm still kind of questioning because there was almost, I want to say, like a magical realism element or sort of like a spiritual element that happened where I was like, I didn't know that the book was like setting that up and maybe it did. So I questioned that but it did still reiterate, I guess, ideas mentorship. Or maybe not mentorship but the idea of supporting like the younger people in the community, too, you know. And I think that kind of goes back to maybe the author's own experience of teaching which I think is really wonderful and I think it's really relevant to like what we do in the library and all that kind of stuff. But, you know, it's a interesting and fun book and I recommend it.
[Frank:] Do you think it is catalogued in mystery in the library?
[Crystal:] I think so, right? It's a conspiracy. Look, it's a violent conspiracy. That's got to be mystery-thriller, right?
[Frank:] What is that? Oh, is that good morning -- what is the sticker on the --
[Crystal:] It's --
[Frank:] Good morning --
[Crystal:] -- the Good Morning America Book Club which is a [inaudible] against it, in my book but whatever.
[Frank:] Throw down. Throw.
[Crystal:] I read it despite the sticker that's the Good Morning America Book Club.
[Frank:] Well, there goes our endorsements. Oh, dear.
[Crystal:] It has a endorsement from Misty Copeland and Alexander McCall Smith.
[Frank:] [Inaudible]. You want to pull a tarot card and see what your future is with [inaudible]?
[Frank:] Since you chose [inaudible], if you have one. If you're going to go --
[Crystal:] [Inaudible] have one. I think maybe our future's going to be like we're both going to be publicly shamed for this episode [inaudible].
[Frank:] I think, I don't know. So let the producer pull a card for us to tell our fates. Which we say this is a sort of comment on our future for today or for what?
[Frank:] Bet against Good Morning America.
Your future against Good Morning America and getting up.
[Frank:] You're [inaudible].
[Crystal:] I don't want to start like some vendetta or rivalry with Good Morning America. They're very powerful, I'm sure.
All right. Last time I asked Frank to pick. Crystal --
-- this is my left hand so tell me.
[Crystal:] Pick the eighth one from the right. And I say that because a violin looks like the figure eight. So it's all connected.
[Frank:] A conspiracy is [inaudible].
[Frank:] And if it's upside-down or not.
It is the right side up Page of Pentacles.
[Crystal:] Page of Pentacle?
Yeah. Page of Pentacles.
[Crystal:] We're all dealing with --
[Inaudible]. So yeah, I think we're all on Divitarot.
[Frank:] No, don't you have your booklet or no?
I use Divitarot. So upright is manifestation, financial opportunity, and skill development. Here, this is the card.
[Frank:] So page is a -- like a person?
Yeah, like an actual page.
[Crystal:] Like a library page.
[Frank:] Like a library [inaudible].
Yeah. So --
[Frank:] What does it mean? Financial, what?
Skill development, financial -- yeah, manifestation and financial opportunity. Do you have it up in front of you, Crystal? Do you want to read it?
[Crystal:] Upright -- no, you said, [inaudible] -- I can't talk this morning -- manifestations, financial opportunity, skill development.
So -- OK. So, Page of Pentacles brings a welcome message of new beginnings, inspiration in the initial stages of a creative project or venture since pentacles rule the material realm and correspond to the element of Earth. This page symbolizes a burgeoning awareness of the value of money, wealth, possessions, career, physical health and how to manifest more of these material blessings. When the Page of Pentacles appears in a tarot reading, you are tapping into your ability to manifest a personal goal or dream and maybe in the midst of a new project such as a hobby, business venture, or the start of a new educational experience.
But the page does not specify the fulfillment of dreams as much as the initial motivation and energy to begin the process.
You need to put in place clear plans for achieving your goals and dreams.
[Frank:] Well, so it's not like we're going to make million dollars today. OK. Now that's out of the way. It's actually pretty true. Like --
[Frank:] That's pretty much like life. It's the journey, not always the destination.
[Crystal:] I mean, I will say this feels really relevant to my life because in the past week I've really been trying to get in front of somebody from Google to make a pitch about Google Docs and how it can be more functional for my work.
[Frank:] What? Actually --
[Crystal:] I also --
[Frank:] What it reminded me is that in Anna Karenina -- because everything goes back to Anna Karenina. It's the only novel that [inaudible] exist, apparently. There was a part where Tolstoy or the narrator, which I haven't even talked with a narratorial voice, but the narrator says that often quoted, before [inaudible] him, why do people think if they achieve their desires they'll be happy? You know, that thing where if someone's like oh, if I only just get this, I will be so happy. And then of course they never are fully.
[Frank:] It's the sort of -- like Christy [assumed spelling] just said, like that sort of motivation to start seeking -- to start seeking. Maybe seeking is happiness. [Inaudible]. Anyway, [inaudible].
[Crystal:] The later paragraph, I think also relates to The Violin Conspiracy where it says --
[Frank:] It all comes back to books.
[Crystal:] -- this page does not specify the fulfillment of dreams as much as the initial motivation and energy to begin the process of turning those dreams to reality. You need to put in place clear plans for achieving your dreams and goals. Stay focused on the practical and tangible elements, keeping your feet planted on the ground, and not getting carried away. Always looking for the next realistic and achievable step forwards. Your common sense and pragmatic approach will lead you to a solution that works. And I'm like that is the book that I just read, well, about two weeks ago, but yeah.
[Frank:] Right. But you can plan and be very conscientious, doesn't mean it's going to work.
[Frank:] I mean, all that you just said sounds reasonable but like the actual execution of that is so difficult. You know, like how we actually put in realistic plans, like what's realistic? What do you trust? I mean, I think about it all the time about planning stuff for the library and I'm like, whenever I think, oh, I can't do that because it's not realistic. I'm like, well why isn't it realistic? And then I think [inaudible] could make that happen. So it is a process.
[Frank:] Oh, I like that card actually.
[Crystal:] Yeah, it's inspiring.
[Frank:] Page of Pentacles. I'm going to call the library page right here as saying, hey Page of Pentacles, come on over here. Oh, wow.
[Crystal:] I mean, the pages do have names, Frank.
[Frank:] Page of Pentacles. [Inaudible] like a real library position if you imagine [inaudible]. Seeking Page of Pentacles for the New Amsterdam branch. Yeah, I'm at the -- I'm in yet another library today. Since I -- oh, I already said that. OK. Anything more to add, darling, before we sign off and skedaddle?
[Crystal:] No [inaudible] -- you're still reading Anna Karenina [inaudible].
[Frank:] I see. You got to bear with me. The next time I will have finished it so I will sum it up, wrap it up, [inaudible] it up, and be done with it. [Inaudible]. Yeah, we'll see. I don't know. And then we could go back to reading stuff together or reading a book together, whatever, or have a guest, some guests coming up, library folk. [Inaudible] library people only right now.
[Crystal:] Such a elite club.
[Frank:] Well, like, you know, just like to talk about people in our own institution, we don't even know what they do.
[Frank:] It's a big institution so it's good to know about that.
[Crystal:] Yeah, yeah.
[Frank:] Also, when we're going to record in-person? Hopefully soon.
[Crystal:] When COVID is destroyed, that's when.
[Frank:] I know. TBD. Get the second booster.
[Crystal:] Oh, OK. Are you going to get it?
[Frank:] I think so at some point. We'll see. Day by day. Day by day. You know that song? Day by day [inaudible]
[Frank:] Oh, dear Lord --
[Crystal:] Didn't the actress from West Side Story win an Oscar?
[Crystal:] We're you pleased by that? [Inaudible] when I saw it.
[Frank:] Now we're going to do both. And it's interesting because Rita Moreno, 60 years ago, won the same award for the same part. I think somebody had said that the only two Latina actresses [inaudible] Oscars, only those two for the same part in the same thing. Arian DeBose, who played Anita and won the Academy Award, you know, can pretty much do anything.
[Frank:] I mean she can really sing, dance, act. She's hilarious. I mean vehicles need to be created for this woman.
[Frank:] Because she has everything. She really --
[Crystal:] I think there will be, yeah, with the Oscar, I feel like that really leads to a lot of different opportunities.
[Frank:] Did you like her speech? I did. [Inaudible].
[Crystal:] I didn't listen to it. I didn't watch it. I didn't know anything was happening, honestly, until somebody was like, oh, somebody slapped whoever and I thought it was staged. I thought it was a skit. I don't know. I didn't know it was happening, any of it, so --
[Frank:] The Oscars, I used to watch like very religiously over the years.
[Crystal:] You know what? In the past, I used to make a solid effort to watch all the best picture nominees. And this year, I don't think I saw any of them and purely by accidents, I don't know. It's just been busy.
[Frank:] Yeah, I mean there's so much out there.
[Frank:] But anyway, we could go on and often do. But I think we should release the listeners from their podcastial purgatory. Thank you so much for listening, everybody, and we'll see you the next time on -- or hear you or be around you the next time in The Librarian Is In.
[Narrator:] Thank for listening to The Librarian Is In. A podcast by the New York Public Library. Don't forget to subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts or Google Play or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the New York Public Library, please visit nypl.org. We're produced by Christine Farrell. Your hosts are Frank Collerius and Crystal Chen.