Literary Lunch: Library blog reaches out

By Heather Lee Schroeder
May 18, 2006

APPETIZERS: Skip movie, catch show

And you thought "The DaVinci Code" was controversial. The book cum movie (which, in case you've been living on a desert island, opens today) has raised a firestorm of criticism and interest for its unconventional take on the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus; but author Dan Brown hasn't got a thing on author Elizabeth Cunningham. Described as a "classy, sexy novel" by Booklist Review, "The Passion of Mary Magdalen" is part sweeping historical epic and part feminist reimagining of one of the Bible's most beloved and maligned characters. Cunningham will give a performance/reading from the novel at 6 p.m. Monday at A Room of One's Own, 307 W. Johnson St.

Journalist Sandy Tolan will read from "The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East" at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Borders Books and Music, 3750 University Ave. The lemon tree of the title is a metaphor for the emotionally fraught Israeli-Palestinian relationship in this book, which charts the lives of two families in Ramla, Israel.

Madison is lucky enough to host the annual WisCon, the National Feminist Science Fiction Conference. This year's event, which runs May 26-29 at the Concourse Hotel, marks its 30th anniversary. The conference is sold out, but be sure to attend the panel discussion "A Feminist Utopia in Madison?" at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Wisconsin Historical Society auditorium, 816 State St. At 6 p.m. Thursday, A Room of One's Own will host a reception honoring authors attending WisCon. To learn more, visit

ENTREE: Library blog reaches out

Some critics have suggested that it's only a matter of time before the traditional brick and mortar library goes the way of the dinosaurs. But according to the American Library Association's new report "State of America's Libraries," overall circulation of library materials rose 3.5 percent in 2003, and 92 percent of Americans believe libraries have a future even with the rise of online resources.

It does seem clear that library patrons are interested in using online resources, though. The report stated that use of electronic resources increased about 13.4 percent in 2003.

Libraries with an eye on service have begun to look at new ways to reach out online. The Madison Public Library, which has always done an excellent job of providing traditional services to a voracious reading constituency, is jumping on the online trend.

This month marks the public debut of a new blog called MADreads, an online resource that provides daily book reviews written by Madison's librarians.

Available on the library's Web site or as an RSS feed, the blog aims to create virtual community, explains librarian Jane Jorgenson. The format encourages readers to interact with the reviews by posting comments and opinions.

Jorgenson, who serves as editor for MADreads, said the idea is to use technology to get dialogue going, and updates in blogging software and other technology have made this possible. The software also allows librarians to make links from the library's online catalog to the blog.

"We realized that with the younger generation, virtual is really the way to go," Jorgenson said.

Barb Dimick, director of the library, said MADreads fits nicely with the library's long-term strategic initiative of promoting reading. "We want to be a big part of what readers do in Madison," she said, adding that the library's efforts to promote reading run the gamut from the blog to early literacy initiatives to large-print books for older readers.

To join in the online conversation, visit

DESSERT: O! Legend interviews legend

Say what you will about Oprah Winfrey, she has done more to bring literate and intellectually engaging topics to her viewers than any other talk show host in history.

Recently, Winfrey took a special interest in Katherine Dunham, the legendary choreographer, anthropologist and civil rights activist whose work is explored in the University of Wisconsin Press' book, "Kaiso!: Writings by and About Katherine Dunham." This recently revised and expanded edition is part of the "Studies in Dance History."

Winfrey's interview with Dunham will be aired during the special "Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball" at 7 p.m. Monday on ABC. In addition to Dunham, Winfrey spoke with other literary luminaries, including Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison.

Heather Lee Schroeder's "Literary Lunch" appears twice a month. E-mail: Web site:


©Literary Lunch 2006