Reader's Exchange

September 2010 - Posts

Read 'til you drop

In hindsight, I view the inspiration as a convergence.  That would technically be defined as a concurrence of ideas leading to a conclusion; however, personal experience teaches that it's really just the ability to recognize that notions I stumble across are better than the ones I'm trying for.

When we were applying all those RFID tags a few months back, I encountered some intriguing nonfiction books, titles that suggested fiction-worthy appeal and extremely relevant topics.  A couple that I'd enjoyed in the past--Paco Underhill's Why We Buy and The Call of the Mall--were among the group also including I Want That!  How We All Become Shoppers; Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What; Macy's: The Store, The Star, The Story; The Towering World of Jimmy Choo; The Making of a Name: The Inside Story of the Brands We Buy; Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class, and so forth.  Shopper and bags

Driving home that day, I was still musing about these highly readable opportunities to consider social history, consumer behavior, and the economy from such a user-friendly angle.  That's when I noticed several souvenir shopping containers from our visit to Manhattan still residing in the back seat of my car.  Soon after, I came across Round Rock's "Shop the Rock" promotion online.  Finally, when I heard about a gap in the display schedule for the big glass case on first floor, realization dawned: someone ought to put together a shopping theme!

That concept is now labeled "It's in the Bag: Shoppers and Shopping" and you can see it next time you come in.  You'll immediately spy the shopping bags--lots and lots of them--so many, in fact, that I suspect co-workers are eyeing me pityingly and concluding that all my off-duty time must be spent on the prowl for designer togs and home accessories, not to mention credit counseling sessions.  I'm happy to report that all those sacks aren't mine (and sad to say that among the "not mine" items are the Tiffany bags).   

Amid the riot of shopping totes and tissue paper you can also discern many books, the titles mentioned earlier and numerous others.  Books and reading are, after all, pretty much the reason for any library feature.  I may have over-accessorized, though.  Quite a few co-workers and library patrons have commented, and they all say the same thing:  "Great display!  It makes me want to go shopping!"

Desert island essentials

We couldn't afford the kind of publicity that famed film director Werner Herzog offered for free a couple of days ago.  In an NPR interview I heard while driving to work, Herzog advocated "Read, read, read."  He further pronounced that "Those who watch television or are too much on the internet, they lose the world.  And those who read, they win it".  Music to a librarian's/teacher's/parent's ears!

I exulted in the fact that this vital message came from an eminence who's not a librarian, teacher, or parent.  If only I could report further insights on this theme, but at that point Herzog segued back into Cinemaland. Gregory Peck as Atticus

You have to admire a man who has immersed himself in the craft of film yet can, on cue, enumerate only three essentials out of the hundreds he must have encountered.   Challenged with the mental exercise of "Quick: name THE three films everyone should see", I demonstrated why Herzog is an expert and I'm not.  Not only can I not narrow the list to three--or even ten--I fail to appreciate some of the award-winners that everyone is supposed to revere: Some Like It Hot, West Side Story, and Norma Rae.  But why should my lack of precision (not to mention total absence of film credits) stand in my way? 

Much like the three books you'd theoretically hope to discover if you were stranded on a desert island, we all know what film shortlist we'd choose if marooned on that same bit of palm-infested real estate with a DVD player.  These are movies that improve with each viewing--and no fair naming To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the WindRocky, or The African Queen, which are probably on everyone else's lists.  Along with the special category of "Films Starring Gregory Peck, Robert Redford, Daniel Day-Lewis, or Colin Firth", here are my picks:

  • It Happened One Night (1934)
  • The Thin Man (1934)
  • Modern Times (1936
  • The Lady Eve (1941)
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
  • The Verdict (1982)
  • Tender Mercies (1983)
  • Ghostbusters (1984)
  • Amadeus (1984)
  • The Princess Bride (1987)
  • The Full Monty (1997)
  • Shakespeare in Love (1998)
  • Gosford Park (2001)
  • Chicago (2002)
  • Seabiscuit (2003)

Please pass the popcorn--and share what's on your desert island list.

A genealogist, a rector, and a killer walk into a plot...

You've surely heard those "what was I thinking?" confessions from publishers:  the agent who rejected Gone With the Wind, the editor who judged Harry Potter too derivative, etc.  I have one of those stories, and I'm not even in the publishing biz.

Not long into my assignment as fiction selector, the (favorable) reviews for book #1 in British novelist Fay Sampson's new mystery series appeared in the journals last year.  Here are the facts as I saw them:
·         RRPL patrons adore mysteries, whether cozy, hard-boiled, or procedural; set in exotic locales; featuring oddball investigators or starring dead celebrities; highlighting historical eras--you name it.
·         Fay Sampson is an established author of both fiction and nonfiction, an editor, a writing teacher, and a prizewinner.
·         The main character of In the Blood is a family history researcher who becomes embroiled in a murder investigation.

Seriously?  Who exactly would be the audience for this story?  Other genealogists? 

The initial logic is there.  Who better to appreciate what Publishers Weekly deemed "a cerebral yet exciting tale of guilt, innocence, and circumstance" than folks who spend months delving into historical details?   But isn't that the problem?  Doesn't all that tracking down of obscure records take up the time one would normally devote to reading?UK police car

Apparently not.   Genealogists are the ultimate multi-taskers, somehow managing to raise families, develop careers, and traipse all over the country and the internet in search of esoteric facts.  Working in a novel or two would just represent one more triumph of list-checking for them.

It's also true that family history research relates to life today as much as to long-ago ancestors.  Shifting fortunes, changing times, and misadventures either overwhelmed or elevated our forebears, and they still confront us today.   Once you learn that your predecessors endured situations rivaling the most overblown soap opera plots, you're hooked as a family history hobbyist.  For those as yet not bitten by the genealogical research bug, In the Blood still presents a scenario of interest: Suzie Fewings uncovers evidence that the ancestor for whom she named her son committed a heinous act.  Now, her teenaged child is drawing suspicion in a murder investigation.

Are the two crimes part of a hereditary pattern?  How is it that Suzie suddenly realizes she is clueless about her teen's sexual activity?  How does that young, good-looking rector figure into Suzie's life these days?

And aren't you glad I went ahead and ordered In the Blood?  The library also has Sampson's next one, A Malignant House.  Book #3, Those in Peril, has just been added to the library's fiction order.   

The ones that got away

Sometimes it's easy to predict Future Success Stories--like the determined teen scanning the shelves for AP reading list titles a couple of days ago.  She was heading out with only one; I asked whether she wouldn't like to consider taking another choice or two.  That way, she'd have a backup plan in the unlikely event that she didn't bond with book #1.

"That's OK", she said.  "This one is under 300 pages, so I know I can force myself to read it whether I'm enjoying it or not."

She will likely congratulate herself on having picked The Life of Pi, but the encounter got me thinking about other mandated titles that failed to score with individuals. 

I spend my days among library staffers and book club members--exactly the sort of folks who would have appreciated Julius Caesar, Silas Marner, Beowulf, David Copperfield, The Scarlet Letter, and all the other greats commonly assigned in high school.  Even these readers, I suspected, harbored a grudge or two about that rare volume of literary canon fodder that left them cold or that they just couldn't finish.    Moby Dick

So I asked.   Predictably, the extremely literate types I polled unanimously reported overall enjoyment of those high school standbys.   Our English teachers obviously knew what they were about--with a few notable misses.    Because the mini-rants listed below were contributed by literature lovers who view most classics as life-enriching and wonderful, they are all the more amusing:

  • "I hated Charles Dickens. I thought Great Expectations was extremely boring (8th grade). A Tale of Two Cities was incomprehensible."
  • "It can be charming to dig through all that Victorian-speak to find something likable, but in the case of Great Expectations--more like opening thoroughly wrapped birthday presents to find them filled with fire ants."
  • "I think the entire Jane Austen body of work is a snore."
  • The Grapes of Wrath: "dustily depressing", "pretty tedious"
  • Don Quixote: "Meh."
  • Catcher in the Rye: "I must be missing something. Does anyone else think this book is highly overrated?"
  • "Totally agree about Catcher in the Rye. Dialog was horrible. Plot okay by standards back then. Characters had little or no appeal and were certainly nothing like anyone I knew even before their ‘situation' appeared."
  • The Old Man and the Sea: "BORING."
  • Little Women: "Stupid."
  • "I was never able to get through Moby Dick."
  • A Separate Peace: "The sub-plots were a muddle to my mind, and I had no interest in the coming of age of snotty, preppy teenage boys--a sentiment I carry to this day."
  • "The book I liked the least (actually hated) was The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne. I found it boring and too detailed."
  • Silas Marner: "...very depressing."

I'm a fan of ornate prose, myself.  I love Henry James and consider George Eliot's Middlemarch to be a page-turner.  The title that I alone seem to loathe is The Hobbit, and you can forget about Lord of the Rings.  Thinking that the first LOTR movie might change my mind, I accompanied my family to the film.  Listening to my mutterings in the vein of "couldn't someone just buy them a ring?", they must have wished they'd left me at home with a large volume of Dickens.