Reader's Exchange

October 2010 - Posts

Opting for the bare bones approach

In a neighborhood festooned with 8-foot inflatable jack-o-lanterns, tree-borne fabric ghosts, and polystyrene tombstones, our house looks like the abode of the Halloween Grinch.  Our yard is unadorned, bereft of its customary display, a life-sized bendable skeleton who would normally lounge on our front yard bench, to the delight of youngsters in our cul-de-sac.Inflatable Halloween cat
This year, Skel has taken up residence in the library's glass case on first floor.  He's advertising our new Playaway collection and prompting double-takes among entering library patrons.  If you stroll by the display, I guarantee he'll have a big grin for you. 
Because we have customers of all ages, we styled Skel in a non-frightening manner.  To complement the black hood and scythe befitting his Grim Reaper persona, Skel is sporting Hawaiian print shorts and flip-flops.  When we set up the display earlier this week, we surrounded him with all sorts of domestic items.  A Reaper who does laundry and has demonstrably signed on for too many chores is an approachable Reaper.
As much as I enjoy working on marketing schemes like that one, promoting library resources is only the second-favorite facet of my job.  The undisputed best one is getting the opportunity to read new fiction before it's published.  And this past weekend I finished a wonderful example:  The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.
McLain's fictional narrative, told from the viewpoint of Hadley Richardson (wife #1 of Ernest Hemingway) suggests insights into Hemingway favorites: The Sun Also Rises, A Moveable Feast , A Farewell to Arms (and I suspect "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" as well) along with at least one I haven't read--Hemingway's first book:  Three Stories and Ten Poems. Now I want to go back and read or re-read everything.  Hadley's casual referencing of Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, etc. as factors in the couple's daily lives, along with vignettes of the Paris cafe scene in the 1920s, adds dimension to what is essentially the history of a marriage--a brief one.
During coffee hour at church this past weekend, I attempted to convey my enthusiasm for Paris Wife to a friend whom I know would also appreciate McLain's style.  As frequently happens when my own enjoyment of a book is too fresh, I found myself burbling on about it.  Then, this weird description emerged, "It's definitely a woman's book, but, on the other hand, it's not a chick book.  Does that make any sense?"
The friend nodded and said, "Absolutely.  I know just what you mean."

How scary it that?

TBF or not TBF?

Last weekend's Texas Book Festival was, in the words of local Barnes & Noble public relations manager Frank Campbell, "the perfect storm".  Owing to ideal weather, immediate follow-up to ACL, and over 200 notable authors on site, TBF 2010 was pleasantly swarming.   I've heard that events predicted to be minor draws brought in overflow audiences, while top attractions generally surpassed those high expectations.    

Attendees are resolving to show up earlier for events next year; competition for most any seat now appears to be a given.  And the wait is worth it.  The prospect of hobnobbing with fellow booklovers and acclaimed authors--for free!--on the Capitol grounds offers unique value.  

For the best possible TBF experience, you would enjoy volunteering, as I did.  Volunteers can get closer to the action; some festival-goers will even covet your free T-shirt!  Second, do your homework.  TBF is a vast undertaking, offering more options than you can manage.  Study the schedule beforehand on the TBF website or in the Statesman's festival guide and do some prioritizing, factoring in wait times and distances between venues.

And there's a third strategy:  share your insights with others.  You can catch de-briefings on speakers you missed, follow up online, and acquire reading suggestions (not to mention gift-giving ideas).Awkward Family Photos book

Some of the best bits I heard at or about the festival:

  • Attendees at chef Alton Brown's packed Central Market session raved about Brown's contagious enthusiasm and consideration (obliging everyone with autographs and scooting parents with young children to the head of line).
  • Amanda Hesser (Essential New York Times Cookbook and sold us on the NYT compilation, which I hadn't realized is not just a Craig Claiborne update; it includes significant historical and reader-contributed content. Ms. Hesser didn't miss a beat when asked (probably for the millionth time) how she stays "rail-thin" even though she bakes constantly.
  • Leila Meacham (author of Roses) referring to the tradition of Southerners sacrificing all for one's property or plantation: "Back then, you were your land. Today, some ladies are their handbags."
  • Jane Roberts Wood (author of the Lucy Richards trilogy and the recent Out the Summerhill Road), delightedly acknowledging this note from a reader: "I think your characters drink too much!"
  • And the author escort for Doug Chernack and Mike Bender, creators of Awkward Family Photos, claimed that she has never laughed so much or so hard in her entire life.
The most exclusive book club ever

If and when I write my novel (did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month?) I'll be thrilled if even one person deems it a "page-turner".  Speed reading, however, isn't the sole indicator of reader involvement.   Call me eccentric, but I can suggest a more significant benchmark.

Masked Greek chorusHere's what happens: you've already passed the "continue or abandon in favor of next book" stage; the story has earned your approval. Then, you know you are truly committed when you imagine a friend or acquaintance reading along and enjoying, commenting upon, or even disdaining the book.  The point is, you're already sharing the book and prompting a response to it--and you haven't even finished it.  Notice how I attribute all this to "you" in the hopes that I'm not the only person who does this?

This very process played out during preparation for yesterday's Baca Center book discussion.  The particularly vibrant Great Conversations selection was "Hekabe" by Euripides, a dramatist who can condense more pathos and ethical dilemmas into a few dozen pages than anyone else you could name.  As Hekabe (Hecuba) grieved, argued, and plotted her way through the multi-layered tragedy, some of her assertions evoked speculation:  what would group members say about that?   By "say", I mean not merely comment but also document opinions with passages brought along or reviewed in advance of the meeting.  Yes, it's that kind of group.  

Nothing like that occurred during my perusal of a title I couldn't resist: Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown.   Adena  Halpern's contemporary dilemmas, e.g., whether to ditch her stylist, registered as so much less compelling than Hekabe's ancient but ageless ones.  Without relating myself, it's no surprise that I couldn't channel anyone else's participation.

Already sold my on my current read, Cristina Garcia's wonderful The Lady Matador's Hotel, I found a particularly sensual passage provoking this vividly imagined scenario: my mom has chosen this book for a a group of her contemporaries.  They're sitting in her living room, reading it aloud.  Suddenly, eyes widen, lips purse, the room goes silent.  Finally, one ventures, "Well, I guess we don't know Jean as well as we thought we did!"

You'll find The Lady Matador's Hotel among the titles offered as Book Club CarryoutsAll Carryout selections will delight some book clubs, and overall they represent a range of reading tastes.  I hope you'll share them, whether your fellow readers are actual or imaginary!  

How green was my novel

Those of you waiting for a library copy of Jonathan Franzen's new Freedom should know that I finished and returned it early.  Nice though it would be to attribute this haste to virtue/consideration, credit goes to the author.  As with The Corrections, Franzen's contemporary family epic delivers both astute prose inviting one to linger on the page and a compelling story that spurs the reader forward.  The library purchased multiple copies, so chances are excellent that your turn will happen sooner than anticipated.

Walter Berglund is my favorite character (though not the one I understood best, so what does that say about me?)  He is ultra-dependable, amazingly well read, and--most importantly--ecologically minded.  Whatever else Walter may be doing, his brain continually registers rates of deforestation, overpopulation, and so forth.  Examples from Walter's calculating but green thoughts:

  • Page 545:  "...low-end estimate of songbirds daily murdered by cats in the United States was one million, i.e., 365,000,000 per year." 
  •  Page 313: "in the two and a half weeks since his meeting in Manhattan with Richard, the world population had increased by 7,000,000. "  Green calculator

Walter would approve of the reusable shopping bags I now carry around, but my internal calculator tallies other sorts of things.  Examples from my less green but still life-enriching totals:

  • 0:  Number of months until Genealogy After Hours. It's coming up on October 22.
  • 2:  Number of service desks on second floor.  During most hours the library is open, patrons can get guest passes, library cards, and circulation help at the large counter; reference librarians provide assistance at the new temporary reference desk (which looks exactly like two folding tables).  A real counter is on order.  
  • 22:  Titles available for book clubs in the forthcoming (later this month) Book Club Carryout program.   RRPL cardholders will be able to check out a snazzy Ikea tote bag containing 10 copies of a highly discuss-able title.  Both fiction and nonfiction titles are offered; many are just-released hardcover editions.  Freedom is among them!