Reader's Exchange

January 2010 - Posts

The thrill of victory...

If you immediately added "...and the agony of defeat", you're dating yourself.  You're in good company, however. Olympic Games spectatorship has evolved from grainy black-and-white to glorious panoramic digital color, but no one has encapsulated TV viewers' perception of the experience more wonderfully than ABC's vintage "Wide World of Sports" slogan.

agony of defeatWhen the first broadcast event--ski jumping--airs on February 12, my DVR will capture it for me.  That and other wintery, photogenic activities offer scenarios in which to imagine myself performing feats not within the "possible" range, since remaining upright on a treadmill pushes the upper limit of my coordination.  When checking the online events calendar, I can resist opportunities to purchase a relay torch replica or collect all four limited edition Coke cans.  But what I would enjoy seeing on www.vancouver2010 is a suggestion for readers like me who hope to catch all the best competitions and still manage some quality time with books. 

Here's one possibility: short story collections.  I am a fan of this genre at any time of the year but especially appreciate being able to fit a complete story in at the end of a sports footage-laden evening.  Sometimes, I choose a selection to fill in the intervals presented by less thrilling events.  I can read one or two stories during lunch and virtuously settle in front of the tube for hours of figure skating that night, secure in the knowledge that I've forestalled brain rot for yet another day.  

The short-story/screen combination has also succeeded in another sort of venture.  Did you know that these acclaimed movies were inspired by short stories:  Brokeback Mountain, The Shawshank Redemption (the story was "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption"), and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The random sampling of short story editions below could enable you to stay in literary trim without missing a single goal or triple jump. 

New/contemporary:  Kevin Brockmeier's The View from the Seventh Layer; Wells Towers' Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned; Amy Bloom's Where the God of Love Hangs Out

Collections by one favorite author:  The Vampire Stories: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Collected Stories of Louis L'Amour; Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg; Flannery O'Connor's Collected Works

Classics or Modern Classics:   Shirley Jackson's The Lottery; James Thurber's Further Fables for our Time

Anthologies:  Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing; The Best American Mystery Stories; Scribner's Best of the Fiction Workshops; New Stories from the South

Our stormy relationship: it's over

We knew it couldn't last.  A library and its community-wide reading choice eventually have to part ways.  Isaac's Storm: a Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History is a thing of the past.  I'm on the Round Rock Reads! committee and will admit that we have a roving eye; we'll soon be seeking a relationship with another exceptional book.

Book heartBut this was fun while it lasted.  Last night's final Isaac's Storm program was a hit with the audience, which numbered over sixty.  KEYE meteorologist Troy Kimmel's appearance highlighted the evening, and just about everyone stayed on to view the History Channel documentary Great Disasters: Galveston Hurricane 1900: Isaac's Storm.

I was intrigued (not to mention entertained) by Mr. Kimmel's overview of some milestones in storm forecasting, along with user-friendly explanations of key hurricane concepts, e.g., "storm surge".  I also appreciated his sharing passages from an account of the Galveston hurricane; it was published shortly after the disaster. 

The audience proved to be worthy company, as well, and not just because they shared my preferences for film-watching treats:  popcorn and ice cream.  Some obviously well-read attendees asked insightful questions that were expertly fielded by our Meteorologist for the Evening. 

Yes, the program was great, and so was the book.  And we have more than memories to document the fourth annual Round Rock Reads!.  The 1900 Storm Photo Exhibit on loan from the Galveston County Historical Museum continues on display in the library for the entire month of January.  Also, the Round Rock Reads! Nominees Book Club will be discussing Nick Arvin's Articles of War in February and W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe (inspiration for the movie Field of Dreams) in March. 

So--no regrets on the library's part.  We'll find another book to love.  Do you have suggestions?  Why not send us a comment? 

And now, a word from the football game...

Super Bowl XLIV doesn't happen until February this year, but it already registers on the household radar screen.  My husband, an old school Cowboys fan, entertains the dare-I-hope possibility that this really might be Dallas' year.  My thoughts center on more practical matters, such as not touching the lucky team logo mug.  Someone else can transfer it from dishwasher to cupboard until after February 7.  Should I drop this symbolic item (and my track record is not good), Dallas will lose, and I'll feel responsible. 

Several volumes and websites could store what I haven't learned about football, yet I am not deterred from enjoying the game.  Done correctly, Super Bowl spectatorship represents equal parts of sport, food, and advertising; I'm at least more conversant on the latter two. 

Tom Landry and Roger StaubachEnlightenment about all three abounds in the library.  John Eisenberg's Cotton Bowl Days: Growing Up with Dallas and the Cowboys in the 1960s, published a few years back, will delight Cowboys aficionados, particularly those who recall the team's inception and who miss seeing the gentleman in the trademark hat and suit.  Viewers who relish creating, consuming, or thinking about game day cuisine might appreciate these: Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home, The Tailgater's Cookbook, and (for the adventurous) The World of Street Food: Easy Quick Meals to Cook at Home.  In New Nonfiction I spotted Alton Brown's Good Eats: The Early Years.  Its large, colorful, graphically quirky format tempted me, but I resisted checking it out so you can.

As for advertising--don't you sometimes feel that the game is being sandwiched in among all the high-priced commercials?  Of course, some of us find that innovative promotions rival the game for entertainment value.  For the like-minded, I suggest James B. Twichell's Twenty Ads That Shook the World: The Century's Most Groundbreaking Advertising and How it Changed Us All.  James P. Othmer's Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet provides an insider view of that strangely fascinating world; it's currently on the New Nonfiction shelf.

One last advertising-themed treat:  the library has Season One of Mad Men on DVD; Season Two is on order.

Star-crossed and blindsided

Describing Romeo and Juliet's attraction as "star-crossed" sounds romantic, but Shakespeare was just calling the situation as he saw it.  If you check the origins of the word "disaster", you'll find that it amounts to something like "against the stars or fate".   

Attendees at Saturday's Round Rock Reads! event at the La Frontera Barnes and Noble heard Mike Cox (author of Texas Disasters: True Stories of Tragedy and Survival) recount numerous instances in which fortune, chemistry, or meteorology produced catastrophic milestones in the state's history.  Cox's chronology dates all the way back to a lost Spanish fleet in 1554 and includes the 1900 Galveston flood, the 1916 Paris fire, the 1937 New London school explosion, and the 1953 Waco tornado, among many others.

Hurricane warningThese accounts offer the kind of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction spectacle that guarantees a riveting read.  And the incidents aren't merely fascinating and sad.  In some cases, they are also tragic in the Shakespearean sense: a fatal flaw in character, judgment, or priorities shapes decisions contributing to the worst possible outcome.  The 1900 Galveston flood (also chronicled in this year's Round Rock Reads! selection, Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History) presents just such an example.  True, forecasting technology back then didn't generate the wealth of data we have today, but bureau politics and self-interest prevented the utilization of vital climatological data that was available. 

Some disasters have left a legacy of progress and innovation, e.g., the use of radar detection following the Waco tornado.  As a consequence of the New London explosion, a sulphur-scented additive now instantly signals the presence of natural gas.  And speaking of legacies, Cox notes the presence of a young reporter named Walter Cronkite at the New London site. 

I found both abovementioned books fascinating, and here's a third title to intrigue you:  Stephen Puleo's Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919.  It's not about Texas, but it is true.  I can only imagine what Shakespeare would have thought of that one.


Families! Can't live with 'em...

Leila Meacham's well-publicized new novel comes out later this week.  If you've already heard that it's primarily set on an East Texas cotton plantation, the title may surprise you--Roses. 

Explained early on, the flowers symbolize a unique tradition among the community founders. For me, this device adds little to the story, unlike the locale and the multi-generational characters, which are inspired choices.  The fictional small town founded by the Tolivers, Dumonts, and the Warwicks, neither in the Old South nor in the West, can supply elements of both regions: social caste and frontier growth potential.  Mary Toliver (who channels Scarlett O'Hara, green eyes and all) is thus granted more scope in which to aspire and, consequently, to invoke new manifestations of the "Toliver curse".

I am finishing (and enjoying) an Advance Reading Copy and predict that some distracting figures of speech and expressions noted there won't appear in the final version.  San Antonio resident Meacham is at her best when narrating the interplay of relatives and old friends unwilling to trust one another, justifiably or not.  Roses' 600+ pages and nearly century-long span have already invited comparison with The Thorn Birds, Giant, and Gone With the Wind.  

Does that juxtaposition sound accurate--or flattering?  You decide.  I'm reserving my opinion but will say that Roses calls to mind two other nicely written sagas that have worn well.  Helen Hooven Santmyers' And Ladies of the Club memorably follows generations of small-town Ohio families from the Civil War well into the 20th century.   Jane Roberts Woods' trilogy (beginning with The Train to Estelline) originates in northeast Texas.  The novels chronicle Lucinda Richards' life for two decades--a span of years that forges her character and documents the changing nature of Texas, as well.  As in Roses, we learn that East Texas women named Lucy should not be taken lightly!

cotton boll