December 2010 - Posts
If Sam Bass had resolved to change his ways on New Year's Day back in 1878, giving up his bank- and train-robbing habit, he might have lived past his 27th birthday. Then, Round Rock probably wouldn't have been elected as his final destination.
Perhaps it was already too late for Sam. A couple of years earlier, he and a partner had gambled away the $8,000 due the owner of the cattle they'd just herded and sold. If the raids on stagecoaches initially seemed a strategy for recouping those funds, it's fairly clear that robbery became an end in itself and a career of sorts.
Spotting some Sam Bass-oriented western novels on the shelf last week reminded me of the outlaw's enduring popularity as a subject. Deputy Alijah W. Grimes, attempting to disarm Bass and his gang, was gunned down in the process; A.W. Grimes Boulevard was named for him. Sam Bass, the wanted desperado, inspired not only a street name but also a theatre, a baseball league, a statue at Madam Tussaud's, several film characterizations, at least one ballad, and scores of books. A search of the library catalog will yield several biographies and three works of fiction devoted to Bass. Deputy Sheriff Grimes has none.
Say what you will about who deserves what, the fact is that lawbreakers fascinate us. The only controversy regarding Deputy Grimes' actions has to do with the practicality of challenging Bass at that precise juncture. Just about everyone values bravery and devotion; those attributes we understand. It's rashness, greed, and cruelty that don't compute so easily. No wonder readers can't seem to get enough of true crime stories.
And if it's Texas-based, enigmatic, legendary bad guys you seek to comprehend, look no further than Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The winning selection for the 2011 Round Rock Reads! campaign, Jeff Guinn's Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde, sets the focus for events beginning January 4. If you can buy, check out, or borrow a copy to read, you'll be rewarded with a stranger-than-fiction tale of the first order. If you haven't finished (or even started) the book by next week, you'll still enjoy the activities. We hope you'll come to one or more. As history demonstrates, starting out the New Year right does make a difference!
Driving to work today, I smilingly observed my subdivision's latest décor upgrade. Even amid the holiday displays, my gaze was drawn to the symmetry, precision, and pleasing arrangement of--the trash cans. It's not just that they all match now; City of Round Rock crews replace those brown containers at consistent proximity to the curb, facing exactly the same angle, with lids identically posed.
Proceeding through on the way to 620, I had to appreciate the orderly pattern of these outsized bins. I suspect that my home isn't the only one harboring evidence of ongoing holiday fuss and not-quite-there-yet readiness for the coming weekend. But you'd never suspect disarray when viewing our waste receptacles; they're channeling the Rockettes.
Round Rock Refuse is clearly operating in top form. As a fellow City employee (though one who's contributed nothing whatever to the efficiency of trash pickup), I appreciate their success unreservedly.
If only I felt the same way about all high achievers. Some merely inspire jealousy.
Steve Martin, for example, recently published another great fiction title, An Object of Beauty, to critical praise; it's in Amazon's Top 100. Apparently, Martin needed to fill the deep void left by successful careers in comedy, music, and acting. Perhaps hoping to avoid typecasting as merely a renowned singer, movie actress, and stage performer, Barbra Streisand authored My Passion for Design. It, too, is in Amazon's Top 100, along with Amy Sedaris' wacky sendup of craft/better living guides, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People.
Actor James Franco (Spiderman) is attracting attention with Palo Alto, a short story collection. Celebrities Nichole Ritchie and Lisa Rinna both have new novels out, as does William Whitbeck. When he's not authoring titles like To Account for Murder (which the New York Journal of Books terms "a stunning debut") Whitbeck has a day job as Chief Judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals.
As one who has yet to achieve either celebrity or authorship, I am relieved to know that the list of multitasking literary show-offs is short, unless you count National Book Award winner Patti Smith, Barack Obama, Tony Hawk, Andre Agassi, Tom Brokaw, Keith Richards, Jon Stewart...
For enduring satisfaction (on both sides), few gift options match the perfect book. However, after recently purchasing for this holiday season, I know how difficult it can be to find the right choice among thousands of offerings.
So, I asked library co-workers for ideas, suggesting that they confide what they'll be giving--or perhaps drop a hint about something they'd love to receive. These staff-approved selections may help you focus:
- For those who'd appreciate an amusingly different take on Christmas: The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir by Ken Harmon
- For movie fans who, even if they love Internet Movie Database, would still find a print reference handy: Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide
- For biography aficionados, these titles have been mentioned by patrons: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow and Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
- For cat lovers and the "I Can Has Cheezburger?" /LOL Cat crowd, there's The Itteh Bitteh Book of Kittehs
- Not sure whether this suggestion was a gift wish or an inspired selection for lucky recipient, but it's a winner: Marilyn Monroe: Fragments
- For children, these perennial favorites offer "fun, a great life message, and great readability over many years": Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- For "classy girl power", try this modern classic by a multiple Newbery winner: The King's Equal by Katherine Paterson
- Potentially for both adults and children--actually anyone who's grateful for a low-tech respite from the digital world and e-anything: It's a Book by Lane Smith
- For admirers of David McCullough, history buffs, and those who cherish a bit of nostalgia during the holidays: In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story (comes with DVD of McCullough's 2009 performance at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert)
- For "parents, parents-to-be, those who work in education, mentors, therapists, and anyone else interested in what it means to be a relational mammal living in a human body": A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon
- For readers with full bookshelves who prefer a more practical way to reflect their interests: calendars, e.g. Audubon Society's beautiful publications
And what are staffers wishing for? In one case, the "what I would really like" item is not of the print realm; it's "a Kindle or a Nook". I am no doubt expected to want a Dewey the library cat book, but I'm not a cat person and I work in a library, for heaven's sake. Mad Men: The Illustrated World would be my preference.
Finally, one co-worker offered this long-shot wish, commenting that "I would positively freak out if someone ever gave me this as a gift": J.K. Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard Collector's Edition. Are you listening, Santa?
We've just added a new magazine subscription: Living Without. It's designed for those with special dietary needs and provides gluten-free, diary-free, and allergy-appropriate recipes and advice.
The food-sensitive demographic has only recently merited significant concern from publishers, at least to the extent that everyone--personally affected or not--now sees popular books and websites confirming their existence and suggesting how we can assist our loved ones to manage their nutritional issues.
The larger concept of living without (often in the guise of simplifying or re-prioritizing) has ebbed and flowed but persisted in literature for decades. Think Walden, Simplify Your Life, Not Buying It, Toxic Success--How to Stop Striving and Start Thriving. Our library catalog even has a subject heading for "simplicity". Currently, the second-floor book display towers are spotlighting books on eco-friendly living, another facet of the purposeful living mindset.
Even popular novels echo the theme. In Helen Fielding's bestselling Bridget Jones' Diary from a few years back, Bridget's real problem wasn't poor choices in romance--it was the lack of a true aim in life, along with lots of social clutter. Believing that happiness=weight loss, she daily noted her efforts to limit smoking and fat intake with ratings: "exc.", "v.g.", etc.
At least this venture helped Bridget to clarify which pursuits ultimately weren't life-enhancing. Readers can sympathize with Bridget's attempts to resist the daily slate of complicated and sometimes unhealthful add-ons. Fast food outlets invite us to upgrade, top, supplement, and garnish our selections; electronics vendors offer "must-have" apps and gadgets faster than we can learn or finance them. No wonder we sometimes relish opportunities to limit our choices. Glance over our book towers or search "simplicity" and see if you aren't prompted to exclaim "V.G.!"