Reader's Exchange

October 2009 - Posts

The accidental book blurb

I can't be the only librarian who fears acting like a stereotype and so downplays my zeal for literature to avoid excessive conversational references to you-know-what.  I suspect others do, too.  No one wants to be a cliche, and we do have other interests.  Besides all that, we were raised right.  

Good manners dictate that we not continually accost folks with forthcoming reviews and author updates, but be warned:  enthusiasm bubbles just beneath the polite surface of the average librarian, and should you inquire whether we've read any good books lately, we never interpret the question as rhetorical.

Arriving early for a meeting last week, I sneaked in a chapter of Cathy Marie Buchanan's new The Day the Falls Stood Still, only to be caught in the act of stashing it back into my huge handbag.  From the seat behind me came, "Sorry, but I just have to know what you're reading!"  With seconds to spare before the presider reached the platform,  I whisked the book up into face-forward position and reeled off a few hasty comments explaining (I hope) my absorption in it.

If the inquirer loves historical fiction (especially American and early 20th century), Buchanan's book would be perfect for her, better still if the reader is concerned about environmental issues.  Niagara Falls is very much a character in the story, as the debate over how to appropriately harness the rapids for hydroelectric power plays out amid one family's reversal of fortunes, Canada's role in World War I, and more than one young romance.  Central characters Bess, with her privileged upbringing, and Tom, grandson of a heroic riverman of near-mythic reputation, are a magnetic couple.

Halfway through my instant book blurb, I suddenly recalled that Lauren Belfer's City of Light, published a few years ago, offers similar appeal: the Falls/hydroelectric power element, compelling narration, nicely integrated historical details.

This appropriate thought was quickly succeeded by a superficial one: what if I hadn't brought a well-written, lovely volume straight from the library's "New Fiction" display and instead had to explain to a stranger a grimy, tattered edition of mediocre prose?   Doesn't this scenario harken back to your mother's classic admonition to wear your best underwear in case you're in an accident?   If you remember that one, it's a sure sign that you were raised right. 



Drinking Coffee with the Stars

Having moved back to Texas and to Round Rock in 2005, I don't qualify as a newcomer.  Still, I only recently managed to discover the Round Rock New Neighbors book group.

Yesterday's wonderful discussion featuring guest author Amanda Eyre Ward prompted me to get the word out: you, too, new resident or not, can get in on this prime reading/discussion opportunity.

RRNN began as a private newcomers group meeting in members' homes but is now open to the public.  The current venue--Barnes & Noble at La Frontera--is easy to locate.  B&N public relations manager Frank Campbell hosts the event and even provides fresh Starbucks coffee and straight-from-the-oven cookies.  Sessions start at 1:00 on the third Monday of each month (but November will be an exception; check out upcoming events on the RRNN blog:

Novelist (Sleep Toward Heaven, Forgive Me, How to Be Lost) and short story writer (Love Stories in This Town) Ward was a definite hit yesterday.  With her warm and chatty responses, the Q&A exchange shifted into conversational mode, touching a variety of topics related to the writer's life and books.  Among other items, Ward divulged that her office is actually her son's closet (which displays her Violet Crown Book Award); that those who create children's books must possess special word crafting skills akin to poetry; and that at a young age she read both Nancy Drew books and John Updike!

RRNN doesn't promise visits from critically acclaimed authors every month, but the discussions are first-rate.  And you never know who might drop in....

Name that tome

Tidying my personal bookshelves last weekend, I encountered a favorite: The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes.  It's a bulky green volume labeled for its publisher rather than physical traits.  Alongside it stands The Big Book of Irony, trim and lightweight as the name might lead you to suppose.

Another is-that-really-the-title moment occurred on a visit to the UK years ago.  Standing in a queue to purchase something, I had sneaked my London on $49 a Day paperback out of my bag to discreetly study our next destination.  My aim was to avoid looking desperately touristy.  Nice try.  The business-attired English gentleman waiting behind me indicated the handbook and inquired: "Found that in the fiction section, did you?"

Sure, nonfiction titles can represent more hope than fact, but they do frequently advertise content that is precisely targeted and even reassuringly practical.  Cruising the nonfiction aisles on second floor recently, I spied these examples:

  • The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It: The Complete Back-to-Basics Guide
  • How to Build a Small Budget Recording Studio from Scratch
  • First-time Landlord: Your Guide to Renting Out a Single-family Home
  • How to Bury a Goldfish and 113 Other Family Rituals for Everyday Life

Why was I so tempted to check them out, though neither a recording studio or tenants have any place in my future?  The notion of possessing the key to unanticipated sorts of expertise must justify the attraction.  Those guides are either timely, or pleasantly arcane, or both, and the library shelves can furnish hundreds more.

That said, I admit to scratching my head over this oxymoronic title:  How to Develop Spontaneity and Style. 

Check, please

Don't you admire those who can cleverly answer the "which three famous people, living or dead, you'd choose to have dinner with" question?  Perhaps you have a boffo response yourself, but I've been stumped by the scope of potential invitees (i.e., everyone who's ever lived, out of whom I can pick only three!)

Also, for no good reason, I've always pictured the event in a vast formal Victorian dining room complete with an army of waiters, unidentifiable eating implements, and the obligation to chat in a sparkling manner to strangers on both sides and another one across the table.

 A breakthrough occurred when I realized that anyone capable of breaking bread with the non-living also has these options:

  • Limit the roster to three writers, and I don't have to entertain them simultaneously
  • Ditch the formal scene
  • Offer each author his/her choice of any Round Rock eatery (because, for all its variety, our city offers no palatial 19th- century dining venues)

Did I also mention that I can select another famous trio any time I wish?  Now that the pressure's off and comfort food is an option, I'm naming the first three lucky dinner companions:

Rick Bragg:  I can discover whether his real voice sounds like the one I hear when I'm reading his artfully simple prose.  He could give me the scoop on his forthcoming book, and I bet he'd choose a place with fried okra, cornbread, and cobbler on the menu.

waiterWilliam Dean Howells:  He could relate insider anecdotes about Twain, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.  Also, I suspect that he shares his character Silas Lapham's discomfiture wtih too-elegant settings and would appreciate barbecue.

Barbara Ehrenreich:  I'd schedule our dinner for tonight in order to afford me a week-early preview of her latest:  Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.  I'm unfamiliar with Ms. Ehrenreich's dining preferences, but, knowing her previous book, I'm prepared to leave a very generous tip!