Reader's Exchange

November 2010 - Posts

You'd be surprised who reads steamy novels

It's not the Nook's fault.  At my house, we're creatures of habit; enjoyment of print books is a long-standing practice.  Offered a chance to play with the trendy new e-book reader that I have on loan, we've thus far responded with a hearty "isn't that nice!", after which we peer at the opening screen, venture into a few menu options, then gingerly put the device aside in favor of our printed volume-in-progress.

So I was determined to generate a more enthusiastic buy-in from our mothers during their Thanksgiving visit.  After lunch, I downloaded three tempting new fiction titles: one drama, one frothy and humorous title, and Edward Rutherfurd's latest historical tome.  The tryout began well: my mother-in-law gamely experimented with the navigation screen and chose Rutherfurd's New York: The Novel.

But, as it turns out, print is not the Nook's toughest competition.  My daughter's appearance with her spinning wheel supplanted 21st-century gadgetry with traditional charm.  Once she'd demonstrated how to transform a clump of wool into a sleek run of yarn, suddenly that was the cooler technology to try.   Hundreds of pages downloaded and available within seconds are no match for a flywheel, a treadle, and (shades of Sleeping Beauty) the spindle.   So, exactly half of the intended audience sampled the e-reader experience.  My mother-in-law did claim to have enjoyed the session and sounded even more sold on New York.

Steampunk trainI've certainly acquired new appreciation for the subject of spinning.  I select fiction, so fiber arts books aren't in my territory, but I checked the catalog to see what the library offers.   Choose the "advanced" menu search and look up "spinning" as "any word in subject": you'll get a nice list including Respect the Spindle, Spin Control..., The Intentional Spinner, and Teach Yourself Visually Handspinning, among others.   

An epiphany that's very much fiction-oriented also occurred.  The fascinating juxtaposition of historic sensibilities and modern/future technology--isn't that what steampunk is all about?  That science fiction/fantasy genre is one I don't often read (though I love definitions such as Caitlin Kittredge's assertion on that "It's sort of Victorian-industrial, but with more whimsy and fewer orphans.")  Now the relevance of steampunk is becoming clearer.  For a starter list, you could try a suggestion from Hennepin County Library.   

Ever been entertained and didn't know it?

Since out-of-towners are coming to our place for Thanksgiving, we can safely state that we're having company.  That potential assertion--that we'll be "entertaining" for the holiday--is sadly not a sure thing.  We might overcook the vegetables, or choose activities for which our visitors are not in the mood, or (Heaven forbid) fail to notice that a plumbing catastrophe of the sort that only transpires when guests are present might be developing at this very moment.

So, our houseguests will be hosted; whether they deem themselves "entertained" is really their decision, isn't it?  It's the same sort of judgment call that advertisers frequently fail to acknowledge in their use of another e-word.  "Enjoy" is often used in preference to "eat", "wear", "use" and similar consumer-ish verbs in a manner that strikes me as either amusingly overconfident or bossy.

Hot coffeeAs you take possession of that steaming cup of liquid and prepare to exit the counter, you'll likely spot a caution that the "beverage you are about to enjoy" is hot.   And while it's a safe bet that you will in fact drink or consume said liquid, I submit that the purchase price entitles the consumer to determine what if any level of enjoyment has been attained.    

Last week, library staffers viewed an online tutorial preparing us to technically support a new database product (coming soon).  Not only will your library patrons love this service, we were assured, but it's easy!  All you have to do is click, download, and enjoy!  This command sequence ignores a crucial step: how about simply listening or viewing?   

In the past few days, I've been amused and enlightened on occasions such as these:

  • A patron requested a detailed map of the Chisholm Trail. She needed to know whether the route included Rising Star, Texas. Not only do I now know there's a town with this wonderful name, but the conversation also included a real Texas ghost town: Thurber.
  • Thanks to a brief free-channel opportunity, I finally saw Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. Now I want the soundtrack and am anticipating a great performance by Bridges in True Grit. I noticed that the library copy of Crazy Heart (novel by Thomas Cobb) is no longer with us so have re-ordered.
  • A fellow librarian recommended a fabulous Indian cookbook featuring loads of helpful photos and less emphasis on curry: Pure and Simple: Homemade Indian Vegetarian Cuisine.

Let's go ahead and use the e-word:  I enjoyed all three.

It's a makeover, Charlie Brown!

It was just like the little tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas, except with furniture.
In pursuit of a low-cost item for the living room, I'd exhausted my usual shabby chic sources in Round Rock and on Craigslist.  Determined to locate a downtrodden but sturdy fixer-upper, I tried Austin Furniture Consignment.  Amid the amazing variety on offer there, my hopes once again dimmed.  These were not desperately needy furnishings; they frankly looked too nice for my purposes and budget.
Except for that poor little 40s-era dresser.  With drawers missing their hardware and chips, gouges, and evidence of years of ill treatment registering on the top surface, it seemed forlorn and resentful to be caught looking so terrible.  Clearly meant for better things, it still emitted a faint snazzy vibe. And it was the perfect size.
Paint cansFor $27.00 I acquired a useful piece with good proportions and solid, all-wood construction.  Paint, sandpaper, and a few tools are helping me recapture the charm of this vintage find---a makeover which now has me reconsidering a thriller I read recently.  

Taylor Stevens' The Informationist:  the advance copy (it's due out in March) was my airport reading choice on a cross-country trip, and I appreciated having something suspenseful to while away the miles.  What didn't excite me was the protagonist's similarity to that other popular heroine---the brilliant, ultra-resourceful loner possessed of edgy attractiveness and a tragic adolescence.  Unique skills, damaged personality, and fearless resolve are traits shared by Stevens' Vanessa Munroe and Lisbeth Salander of Millennium Trilogy fame.

Now, my furniture re-do reminds me how relevant this brand of investigator/expert can be for many readers.  She's a more complex, more real version of the plucky, peppy type who's starred in scores of plots over the decades.  The can-do spirit is still there and still speaks to readers, but we're now seeing more of that element that elicits a universal response--something (in this case a psyche) in sad need of first repair, then transformation.  Most of us value the opportunity to recognize and salvage that which is worthwhile.  The challenge is to see beyond the damaged "before" and envision the ''after". 

Yet another approach to smart eating

I'm savvy enough to know two important things about zombies:  (1) They don't specifically feast on gray matter or shuffle around chanting, "Brains! Braaaaaains!".  That's an unfair (and fun) stereotype based on one of those ....Living Dead films.  (2) Zombies have now officially topped vampires on the Trend-o-Meter.
That reality was confirmed yesterday.  Sure, we've all noted zombies creeping up on the vampires (in prominence, that is), but here's how you can tell they've won.  Paging through book reviews, I encountered this title in a trade journal:  Vampire Knits: Projects to Keep You Knitting from Twilight to Dawn.  Spotlighting such items as the Werewolf Hat, Bellisima Mittens, and Blood Bottle Cozies, this imaginative guide surely represents the final stage of vampire domestication.   As the product description observes, "Black capes are so 1897." And vampires are so last month.  
Movie posterThe same magazine that prompted me to once again regret my lack of knitting expertise devoted a two-page feature on zombie fiction.  My favorite title:  Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion.  It's by Alan Goldsher, and the library has it, along with "Harrison Geillor"'s The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten, also The Book of the Living Dead.  On order and coming soon to the library are Ben Tripp's Rise Again: A Zombie Thriller and Kevin Anderson and Sam Stall's Night of the Living Trekkies.  Searching the library catalog with the subject heading "zombies--fiction", you'll discover 69 entries. 
I'll be avoiding some of them.  Recognizing my need to counterbalance the drooling, droning, Halloweenish caricature that has constituted my zombie reading/viewing up to now, I sought a promising literary antidote.  Joan Frances Turner's Dust merited a starred review in Booklist, which extolled its representation of "a new zombie mythology that is smart, scary, and viscerally real".  And now, having read it, I admit my preference for zombie lore that is generic, unthreatening, and frivolous.
Perhaps if Ms. Turner wrote less effective prose, I wouldn't have mapped the limits of my open-mindedness toward zombies.  But, thanks to the author's thoroughly realized characters, evocative descriptions, and heart-wrenching dialogue, I found it possible to imagine an existence I really didn't care to contemplate.  It's exactly my sort of novel--if the premise weren't so ghastly.
Dust undoubtedly has the potential to impress and delight other readers.  Perhaps you should consider it; I think this writer has a future--not to mention braaaaaains!