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Cat in the Stax: Defining Meta

By Ethan Shea

"Inception spinning top"

 

On Thursday, Oct. 28, Mark Zuckerberg made a big announcement. As part of a massive rebranding project, his multibillion dollar company, Facebook, has replaced its ubiquitous name with a new corporate title, Meta. As significant as this may seem, to be honest, I’m not very concerned about the odd names billionaires like Zuckerberg come up with (I’m looking at you too Mr. Musk).

Rather, for this week’s “Cat in the Stax,” I’m going to talk about something just as meta but, in my humble opinion, much more interesting. Today I want to define what it means to be meta by exploring some markedly meta books and movies.

With regard to storytelling, in most cases, audiences are meant to be immersed in the book, movie, or song they’re enjoying. But when something is meta, audiences become aware of the fact that they’re watching or listening to something, and the world of the page or screen reveals itself to be separate from the audience’s world. In summation, art that’s meta is self-referential and examines its own meaning as a work of art.

"The Lost Children Archive"Lost Children Archive

I’m actually in the middle of reading this novel by Valeria Luiselli right now, and I can’t help but notice the metafiction present throughout the text. The story describes the life of a family traveling from New York City to Arizona to conduct research in the midst of injustices continuously being carried out against child refugees at the southern border of the United States. Throughout the journey, each family member receives a box, their own personal archive, and fills it with items gathered during the voyage or deemed important beforehand.

This is where things get meta. The book itself is separated not only into chapters but boxes. Instead of turning to chapter two as one may do in a more traditional text, readers of Lost Children Archive will encounter “Box 2.” This formative archival work leads readers to contemplate how they and the book itself construct their own archives as well as the implications of going through someone else’s belongings. Although the contents of the archives can technically be watered down to a list of items, the parallels between chapters and boxes prove there’s a lot more to be written about them than a few words.

Inception"Inception Movie Poster"

Christopher Nolan’s film Inception (2010) is a remarkably meta movie. The very premise of its story alludes to its meta status, as much of the film’s plot subtly calls attention to the fact that it’s taking place within a film. Throughout the movie, the goal of the protagonists is to complete “inception,” which is the act of planting an idea into someone’s mind through complex layers of dreams. In order to do this, a group of dream-building-experts enter the mind of their target and get to work.

The construction of the dream, the setting, actors, and events, must all be perfect so the victim doesn’t realize they’re in a dream, just as movies must be crafted so audiences forget what they’re watching isn’t real. This is why Inception is one of the most meta films in recent memory.

"We Are in a Book!"Elephant & Piggie: We Are in a Book!

For something to be meta, it doesn’t have to be as complex as Inception. In fact, the children’s story Elephant & Piggie: We Are In A Book is extremely meta because the story’s characters, Elephant and Piggie, become conscious of their existence within a book. At first Elephant doesn’t understand how they’re being “read,” but before long, the pair becomes excited about life between the pages. To entertain themselves, Elephant and Piggie make the reader say a funny word… “banana.” Before the inevitable ending of the book, Elephant starts to worry about how their story will conclude, so in a last-ditch effort to extend the time they’re being read, Piggy asks the reader to read the book again.

This children’s story is meta because its entire premise is made possible by calling attention to its form. Here, in a fun and simple way, young readers can begin to understand what it means to be meta and how stories continue to live in the present through the act of reading.


Headshot of Ethan SheaEthan Shea is a first-year English Graduate Student at Villanova University and Graduate Assistant at Falvey Memorial Library.

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Cat in the Stax: Banned Books Week Hits Close to Home

By Ethan Shea

""

Sunday, Sept. 26 marked the official beginning of Banned Books Week 2021. This celebration of the freedom to read hit close to home this year when controversy surrounding a book ban in York, Pa., made national headlines.

Just a couple weeks ago, there were several protests against the Central York School District’s imposition of what was effectively a book ban targeting antiracist literature. Some of the banned material included a children’s picture book titled I Am Rosa Parks, a story of the life of Malala Yousafzai, a documentary about James Baldwin, and an episode of Sesame Street on racism. The Central York School District claimed these texts were merely under review, yet this “review process” nearly lasted a year.

These books were banned last October, but this August, teachers in the district received an email telling them to continue to avoid a list of texts that included several Black writers. This ban was recently lifted as calls to reverse the ruling became more widespread, but the fact that the ban endured for so long shows that the fight for the freedom to read is ongoing. Banned Books Week comes at an especially apt time this year, as the reversal of this book ban gives readers everywhere a special reason to celebrate.

It is worth noting that denying access to books through exorbitant costs can work as an effective ban against material. If students cannot afford to buy certain texts, they have just as little access to them as they would if the texts were banned entirely. This is why the Affordable Materials Project (AMP) collaborates with Falvey Library to assure all students have access to much needed educational materials. This project has saved students over $1 million since 2018, so if you’re a student at Villanova who has not heard of AMP, I would highly recommend looking into it here.

"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

To conclude, here are a few famous books that have been banned at some point in history:

"Brave New World"

“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou is one of the most banned writers in the United States. Since she published this autobiography in 1969, it has been challenged time after time for its depictions of racism and sexuality. Other works by Angelou have also been banned, such as her poetry collection, Still I Rise.

Brave New World

This classic dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley has been repeatedly banned for what some interpret as the glorification of sex and drugs. The 1932 work of fiction takes place in a futuristic society and warns of the dangers of industrialism and commodity culture.

"Go Tell It on the Mountain"

“Go Tell It on the Mountain” by James Baldwin

Go Tell It on the Mountain

This 1952 novel by James Baldwin was also banned for portrayals of race and sexuality. The text documents the life of John Grimes, a teenager growing up in Harlem. Much of this story is based on the life of James Baldwin himself

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Headshot of Ethan SheaEthan Shea is a first year English Graduate Student at Villanova University and Graduate Assistant at Falvey Memorial Library.


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Happy Frankenstein Day!

""

By Ethan Shea

Each year on Aug. 30, the world collectively comes together to celebrate one of the most influential novels of the past few centuries and the writer who brought the legendary monster to life. The book in question is Frankenstein, and its author is Mary Shelley. Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only 18 years of age, and the novel was subsequently published two years later. Surprisingly, the story came about in the midst of a friendly competition between Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron. The three wanted to see who could write the best horror story, and in brief, Mary Shelley blew her competition away.

Frankenstein Day fittingly falls on the anniversary of Mary Shelley’s birthday on Aug. 30, 1797, so if you’d like to take part in this holiday’s festivities, drop by Falvey Memorial Library and grab a copy of the classic novel for yourself! In addition to the book, there are countless films featuring the undead monster we all know and love. Whether you decide to watch Frankenstein (1910), the original silent film, or something as new as Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (2012), you’ll be paying homage to Shelley and her timeless story.


Headshot of Ethan SheaEthan Shea is a first-year English Graduate Student at Villanova University and Graduate Assistant at Falvey Memorial Library.

 


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Summer Reading Stacks

I’m Daniella Snyder, a second-year graduate student at Villanova University, and your ‘Cat in Falvey Library’s Stacks. I’ll be posting about academics– from research to study habits and everything in between– and how the Falvey Library can play a large role in your success here on campus!

 

Welcome back to campus, Wildcats!

How was your summer? More importantly, did you read any good books? Which book did you pack in your beach bag and bring home covered in sand and salt water stains? Which book kept you turning pages for hours during a lazy day at home? Was there a book you started but left unfinished when you packed up to return to school?

Thankfully, National Read A Book Day is Friday, Sept. 6, and Falvey Library wants you to spend the day reading for fun. Yes, read for run. Get outside, and pick up a new book, a favorite book, or a book you didn’t finish. Make sure to stop in the library and pick up a button at the Circulation Desk to show your support for the holiday.

I’ll be picking Whisper Network by Chandler Baker back up. I started the novel at the tail end of my summer, and it’s been sitting on my nightstand ever since. For National Read A Book Day, I’m going to bring the book with me to work and spend my lunch break outside, ignoring my phone and academic responsibilities for just a little bit. It’s an engrossing read, set in a modern-day corporate office after the suspicious suicide of the company’s CEO. Every page has enough thrill and intrigue to keep me guessing.

In thinking about National Read A Book Day, I asked some of Falvey’s staff to reflect on their favorite summer reads:

 

Nate Haeberle-Gosweiler, Communication and Marketing Graduate Assistant, recalls The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty by Benjamin Bratton: “This book was more than just interesting. It was a book that made me change my feelings about the world.”

Shawn Proctor, Communication and Marketing Program Manager, picked a throwback: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: “I watched the movie as a kid, but never read the book. It’s cool to read it now, knowing that my kids have read it before me. It’s also really incredible that a book without featured characters that are similar to us is still to relatable.”

Annabelle Humiston, Falvey Library Student Worker, loved Nick Bilton’s American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road: “I’m a huge fan of crime thrillers and this one really kept you on your toes. I want to work in forensics psychology after graduation, so it was both informative and entertaining.”

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin made Chris Hallberg, Library Technology Developer, catch the book bug this summer. “The book was such an unbelievably gripping work of science fiction that I couldn’t put it down, and I went on to read twelve books this summer,” Hallberg says.

After watching the Chernobyl HBO miniseries and listening to the podcast about the show, Kallie Stahl, Communication and Marketing Specialist, picked up Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham. “After watching the miniseries, I realized I didn’t know a lot about Chernobyl,” Stahl admits. “This book was a great resource for the event itself, because it really delves into history.”

Joanne Quinn, Director of Communications and Marketing, has been talking about Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou for months.”Not only was it intriguing and the author told a good story, it was also fascinating to learns the intricacies of the relationship between entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.”

Tara Westover’s Educated really inspired Regina Duffy, Communication and Marketing Program Manager. She says, “Her success story was moving. She grew up in the mountains, uneducated, and with little guidance, achieved her dreams.”

Allie Reczek, Falvey Library Student Worker, is going to finish Hannibal by Thomas Harris. “I only got about 100 pages into the book this summer, but I really want to finish it. I liked it because I read The Silence of the Lambs and then I watched the movies. I wanted to continue the series,” she says.

 

 

 


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Reading Toni: Explore Morrison’s Body of Work

Toni Morrison book collage

“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”

—Toni Morrison (1931-2019)

 

Toni Morrison, Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize, and American Book Award winner, passed away today at the age of 88. On the eve of a new biopic about Morrison, Kallie Stahl looked back on the library’s collection of her work. In honor of her life and incredible contribution to American letters, we are re-running a portion of the blog, originally featured in June.

Whether you’re familiar with Morrison’s narratives, looking to re-experience her storytelling before the film, or new to the author’s work, Falvey Memorial Library has a number of Morrison’s novels for you to explore:

    • The Bluest Eye (1972) The story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlover—a black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others–who prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different.
    • Sula (1973) Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies.
    • Song of Solomon (1977) With this brilliantly imagined novel, Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars, and assassins…inhabitants of a fully realized black world.
    • Tar Baby (1981) The place is a Caribbean island. In their mansion overlooking the sea, the cultivated millionaire Valerian Street, now retired, and his pretty, younger wife, Margaret, go through rituals of living, as if in a trance.
    • Beloved (1987) Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War, this profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is considered to be Toni Morrison’s greatest novel and the most spellbinding reading experience of the decade.
    • Jazz (1992) This passionate, profound story of love and obsession moves back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of Black urban life.
    • Paradise (1997) In prose that soars with the rhythms, grandeur, and tragic arc of an epic poem, Morrison challenges our most fiercely held beliefs as she weaves folklore and history, memory and myth into an unforgettable meditation on race, religion, gender, and a far-off past that is ever present. 
    • Love (2003) A Faulknerian symphony of passion and hatred, power and perversity, color and class that spans three generations of black women in a fading beach town.
    • A Mercy (2008) Reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart, it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter—a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment.
    • Home (2012) The story of a Korean war veteran on a quest to save his younger sister. Frank Money is an angry, broken veteran of the Korean War who, after traumatic experiences on the front lines, finds himself back in racist America with more than just physical scars. He is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from that he’s hated all his life.
    • God Help the Child (2015) A tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult. At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love.

Kallie Stahl, MA ’17 CLAS, is communication and marketing specialist at Falvey Memorial Library. Her favorite Toni Morrison novel is The Bluest Eye.


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Reading Toni: Explore Morrison’s Body of Work Before New Biopic “The Pieces I Am” Premieres in Theaters

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, a new biographical film about the Nobel Prize-winning author premiers in select theaters Friday, June 21. Whether you’re familiar with Morrison’s narratives, looking to re-experience her storytelling before the film, or new to the author’s work, Falvey Memorial Library has a number of Morrison’s novels for you to explore:

    • The Bluest Eye (1972) The story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlover—a black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others–who prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different.
    • Sula (1973) Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies.
    • Song of Solomon (1977) With this brilliantly imagined novel, Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars, and assassins…inhabitants of a fully realized black world.
    • Tar Baby (1981) The place is a Caribbean island. In their mansion overlooking the sea, the cultivated millionaire Valerian Street, now retired, and his pretty, younger wife, Margaret, go through rituals of living, as if in a trance.
    • Beloved (1987) Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War, this profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is considered to be Toni Morrison’s greatest novel and the most spellbinding reading experience of the decade.
    • Jazz (1992) This passionate, profound story of love and obsession moves back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of Black urban life.
    • Paradise (1997) In prose that soars with the rhythms, grandeur, and tragic arc of an epic poem, Morrison challenges our most fiercely held beliefs as she weaves folklore and history, memory and myth into an unforgettable meditation on race, religion, gender, and a far-off past that is ever present. 
    • Love (2003) A Faulknerian symphony of passion and hatred, power and perversity, color and class that spans three generations of black women in a fading beach town.
    • A Mercy (2008) Reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart, it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter—a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment.
    • Home (2012) The story of a Korean war veteran on a quest to save his younger sister. Frank Money is an angry, broken veteran of the Korean War who, after traumatic experiences on the front lines, finds himself back in racist America with more than just physical scars. He is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from that he’s hated all his life.
    • God Help the Child (2015) A tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult. At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love.

Kallie Stahl, MA ’17 CLAS, is communication and marketing specialist at Falvey Memorial Library. Her favorite Toni Morrison novel is The Bluest Eye.


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Last Modified: June 20, 2019