Reader's Exchange

June 2010 - Posts

Shortlisted in the stacks

Following up on last week's admission that not all my book advice is golden, I resorted to my favorite source of literary expertise:  co-workers.

I polled library staffers, requesting names of books they've recommended and later heard described as someone's new favorite, "best book ever", or "wonderful".

The list of supremely well-received suggestions:Gift book

  • David Whyte's The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship
  • The Sea by John Banville
  • Martin Millar: The Good Fairies of New York
  • William Goldman's The Princess Bride
  • Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (and sequel Catching Fire; Mockingjay is due out in August)
  • Michael Kort's The Columbia Guide to Hiroshima and the Bomb
  • Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
  • L.M. Montgomery's Emily series: Emily of New Moon; Emily Climbs; Emily's Quest

If you try one of these or have advice for a can't-miss read, we hope you'll comment.

Gambling on the perfect book

For someone who's not a big risk-taker, I venture possible rejection and failure on a daily basis.  I can't decide which is the more serious gamble--recommending books to total strangers, or assuring friends and family that I have just the title for them.

People near and dear to you generally won't pretend that they liked something if they didn't.  That's why a recent chat with dinner guests was so gratifying.  My husband praised Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh as "the finest book ever written", and guess who suggested he try it?  Actually, when I read it I was so distracted by the anticipation of how delightful he'd find it that I probably missed entire passages. 

Not all my literary advice merits rapturous feedback.  After handing The Swan Thieves to a friend with "loved it and think you will, too" certification, I awaited a glowing response.  The actual verdict?  "Not bad; I'd give it a B."  Not what I'd hoped, but you should know that a second-tier score from such a discerning critic is still admirable.

Our daughter's utter rejection of a children's classic documents my worst misfire, destined to live on in family lore.   Back when purchasing a brand-new item from a bookstore was a rare treat, we presented her with Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.  We did notice that she never picked it for the bedtime story but just figured that Little Black, A Pony was enjoying an extra-long interval of favor.

Realization dawned (finally) during setup for our garage sale.  Wild Things repeatedly and mysteriously appeared on the "three for a dollar" table. My husband and I discovered it and restored it to the house multiple times.  Finally, our five-year-old stomped out to the garage, deposited the offending volume amidst the other offerings and announced, "I think it's time to let this book fire some other child's imagination." 

Undeterred by that fiasco, I offer this guidance:  if you're seeking a Sendak classic for a youngster's gift,  The Nutshell Library might be a safer choice.

Wild Things

Technological scene-stealing at the library

Here's one for the life-is-unjust archive.  Library staffers devoted an entire week (and then some) to applying thousands of RFID tags in our books, DVDs, and CDs--and what is our reward?  We are constantly upstaged by four square devices with touch screens, flashing lights, and multiple-item checkout capacity.  

Our patrons love the new RFID stations.  They can achieve one-stop shopping by paying fines and checking out in the same session.   They delight in stacking up books, watching mesmerized as the titles materialize on the screen and change colors.  We have even overheard patrons claim that "I just paid a fine, and it was fun!"  No one ever told me that.Robot

We're not bitter.  Jealous perhaps, but we'll get over it.  After all, we enjoy the self-checks, too, and we never, ever tire of hearing evidence that our patrons are pleased.  Those of us who don't light up, emit tech-y sounds, or produce automatic receipts will content ourselves with doing what self-checks machines don't--which is everything else. 

Streamlined checkout encourages our patrons to choose more materials, leading to increased check-in responsibilities and more items to be shelved, all manually.   Summer reading campaigns--and even more great programming by our talented youth librarians--not only incentivize checkouts but also generate greater numbers of reference questions and what-to-read inquiries at the desks, by telephone, or via email. 

Knowing this, I was surprised when a self-check patron innocently asked, "So, what do you do with all your free time, now that machines are doing your work?"  I glanced up from an in-person reference question, an email question, the June fiction order, and the first draft of an article, all open on my computer, with what must have been a mystified look.  It was difficult to communicate just then, with a couple of heavily laden book carts trundling by on their way back to the shelves.

Crying fowl at the box office

Do we agree that "cult classic film" is frequently euphemistic for "awful movie"?  And that dreadful flicks can be wonderfully entertaining?  Take Plan Nine from Outer Space, so uproariously unfortunate that my family felt we had to own it on DVD.  If you haven't added that one to your personal collection, you likely know someone who has.

Now there's Birdemic (full name, Birdemic: Shock and Terror).  A "viral cult hit", this four-years-in-the-making production has inspired accolades such as The New York Times' "A Turkey Flies High" (or, as puts it, "Run For Your Lives!")  Reviews suggest that every single dollar of the $10,000 budget is evident on the screen--if you get my drift.

Birdemic publicityCheesy special effects are my idea of a good time.  And, of course, half the joy of witnessing risky film ventures occurs afterward.  Surely, the ticket price entitles one to scoff at the film's shortcomings, and I do.

Double standard alert:  So, why am I not similarly willing to scorn books that are near-misses, disappointments, or just disasters?  I'll gladly tell library patrons that I thought "X" movie represented two misspent hours I'll never get back, or some equally candid report.  However, when asked to assess a book or series that I hated, I'll offer something tepid like, "I suppose it just isn't my kind of book," or "I haven't gotten beyond the first title yet" (meaning "and I never will...")

It's not that books are library territory and movies aren't; our collection includes hundreds of DVDs.  Perhaps I suspect that my views might occasionally carry some weight with patrons for whom I've recommended books they enjoyed.  My lack of film-reviewing credentials, on the other hand, is obvious!

Here--possibly proving that point--are two films in from my personal "worst ever" list:  Penny Serenade and Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.  Your thoughts?