Reader's Exchange

July 2011 - Posts

It is what it is--perhaps

Did you ever nominate a book for your reading club, then panic when it's chosen?  If so, you understand my qualms about Saturday's meeting.  Larry Beinhart's The Librarian seemed an ideal choice when submitted; suddenly I could foresee my taste being questioned. 

The Librarian is a political thriller--a circumstance suggesting two pitfalls already.  In this group, our best interchanges hinge on elements like characterization, imagery, theme; The Librarian is decidedly plot-centered.  Another "why didn't I think of this earlier" issue involves the group's political preferences, which I believed I'd correctly assessed.  But what if I'd misunderstood?

Fortunately, the quirky escapade was the right change of pace at the right time.  More than one reader had mentally "seen" the story as a movie as they read--appropriate, since Beinhart's earlier American Hero inspired the film Wag the Dog.   (The just-released movie Salvation Boulevard is also based on Beinhart's novel by that name.)  Thankfully, nobody evidenced a less liberal viewpoint than I'd imagined. 

Not only was the book a hit; it also inspired the Best Book Club Fare Ever.  Our hosts chose as their theme "conspiracy food".  (Didn't know that was a culinary genre, did you?)  The idea was that edibles can assume disguises and transmit misleading cues, just as people can.  Thus, as we walked in the door, our eyes locked on a tall, white frosted confection dominating the dining room table.  Rounded and stately with thick icing, dotted with the traditional tiny red fruits, this impressive treat had us wishing we could go proceed straight to dessert.

That's when our hostess disclosed the cake's true identity:  meatloaf slathered with mashed potatoes, garnished with cherry tomatoes.  Even looking close, we found the dessert mirage hard to dispel.  When Laura sliced into the towering creation to reveal an interior formed in two distinct layers featuring potato "frosting" in between, we erupted into spontaneous applause.  That degree of attention to detail deserved no less.Slider cookies

Our hosts had even anticipated that our gratitude for a clever entrée wouldn't preclude dessert lust.  With a flourish, they indicated the designated sweet, a lovely platter of--tiny hamburgers?

We had truly underestimated our hosts' resourcefulness.  Why stop with a fake-dessert entrée when you can also serve up a fake-entrée dessert?  Those weren't real sliders after all; we were beholding slider cookies: brownie patties sandwiched between vanilla cookies garnished with green-tinted coconut and standard-looking red and yellow "condiments" made of frosting.   Never have so many phone cameras emerged so quickly from so many pockets.

And never has an after-dinner book discussion proven so anticlimactic.

Out of control

Approaching the reference desk earlier this week, the customer hesitated and did a quick left-and-right visual check before asking, "You're really controlling the whole system from right here, aren't you?"

 If you're familiar with the ref desk, you may concur that his impression isn't completely far-fetched: tall, stand-up counter with gleaming black surface, tall person facing out in a position to monitor everyone else on the floor while busily keyboarding mysterious commands into a computer whose screen is strategically shielded from outsiders' view. Control

 After wistfully envisioning myself as Queen of the System, I shared the truth:  the only thing I controlled was the fiction order up on my screen, and the counter really is just a reference desk.  (The library is a City of Round Rock department, thus the IT department manages our computers.)  I hastened to add that I could, at any time, walk over to the computer reservation console and check to see if the queue was proceeding smoothly, but even I didn't find that impressive.

Though not controlling or powerful myself, I observed some great examples of Using Powers for Good this week.  The aforementioned IT department, for example, is coordinating the transition of all City departments from one phone system to another--hardware, software, quirky combinations of the above, etc.--while still responsible for all the computer issues.  And somehow they remain as courteous as ever.  Amazing. 

 Also, we've witnessed scenarios involving library patrons who happen to be mothers of multiple children of various ages.  These moms manage to navigate both floors while pushing a stroller or holding a baby (or both), delving into well-organized tote bags to whip out elementary reading lists or SRP logs for the entire family, and supervising older children who evidently don't sense the midsummer energy drain that afflicts most adults.  Now that's power.

 If I were Queen of Something, I'd distribute free copies of everyone's favorite summer reading, autographed even.  As a lowly librarian, however, I have only four giveaway copies of new books for four lucky readers.  Just email me at  and tell me which one or ones you'd like to have.  Please provide phone number or email and mailing address; I'll mail to the winners after the drawing on July 29.·

      Deanna Raybourn, The Dark Enquiry (autographed advance reading copy)
      Tayari Jones, The Silver Sparrow (autographed hardcover copy)
       Susan Mallery, Already Home (autographed paperback)·
       Laura Griffin, Unforgivable (not autographed, but Laura sent it to us personally!)

A laughing matter, and one that isn't

Not to give away secrets of our cul-de-sac, but I bet ours is not the only House Divided.  I refer, naturally, to lawn maintenance.  My husband selects the crew cut style, resulting in a sleeker look and ensuring the longest possible interval between sessions.  I prefer more of a pixie look, neat but not ultra-short, affording potential health benefits for the grass.

Knowing all this, I should have checked the height adjustment setting before plugging in the mower yesterday.  The less-than-lush yard perimeter didn't clue me in, but the blade began to stall in the greener middle section.  Sure enough, the lowest-level setting was locked in.  At that point, switching to medium length would have produced a crop circle effect--but with rectangles.  And we do generally try to avoid "there goes the neighborhood" trends.Crop circles

As for mower choice, we're in accord.  The greenest option (other than goats--a potential TGTN) was the rotary push mower which proved as ineffective on our crop of St. Augustine as the experts predicted.  Our second-choice electric mower works great.  My husband mastered power cord coordination early on; I obviously never will, instead flinging the line about as though lassoing a herd of imaginary creatures.  No charge for the comedy act, friends and neighbors!

Without the option of watering a couple of times per week, none of these minor dilemmas would be possible.  Checking the City's Water Use Watch, I expect to be advised any day now that twice weekly is no longer a reasonable expectation. 

And, of course, individual lawns during a particular summer illustrate a larger concern.  Michelle, our director, demonstrated her mindfulness of the issue with a book tower display on second floor.  Are You Water Wise? features, along with titles like The Water Atlas and Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity, some nifty takeaway brochures:  Wise Water Use Outdoors, Are You Polluting Brushy Creek?, and Earth Wise Guide to Lawn Problems.

The good news is that library patrons are checking out those books left and right.  The bad news for Michelle is that she still has two weeks left to scrounge for more titles in her popular subject area. 

Across from that tower you'll see my mine: Fiction Inspired by Water.  Those are checking out briskly, too, but I chose a less challenging theme, thanks to RRPL's generous  fiction collection.  When the obviously qualified picks--Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea, Huckleberry Finn--have left the building, there's always Water for Elephants and The Dive from Clausen's Pier.

Why the green stuff is so important

Today's shuttle launch coverage echoes back thirty years; the first space shuttle flight headed skyward in April 1981.  We know what NASA was doing then, but what about the rest of us? 

Flashdance didn't screen until 1983, so we weren't sporting leg warmers yet.  However, as Lady Diana Spencer's wedding gown--July 29, 1981--demonstrates, enormous sleeves and shoulder pads were already in evidence.   (Those family album photos don't lie). 

Also that year, the tragic collapse of the Hyatt Regency-Kansas City walkways made headlines, as did the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor as the first female Supreme Court Justice and the end of the major league baseball strike.

Rubik's cube, introduced here the previous year, had by 1981 inspired the publication of how-to books to solve it and thus salvage our pride.  Somehow, readers still found time to propel James Clavell, Martin Cruz Smith, and Harold Robbins to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List in mid-July.  Snacking on lettuce

A glance at current fiction and nonfiction bestseller lists might suggest that we as a reading public feel more secure about ourselves (no diet or investment books on the nonfiction list!).  But that's probably because we're viewing those topics on our smartphones or e-readers.  Richard Simmons may still be around, but the publishing world is another, more cosmic landscape now.

I like to think of it in terms of lettuce.  Checking 1981 prices in The Value of a Dollar, I found iceberg lettuce going for about 44 cents per pound that year.  In those days, the appellation "iceberg" wasn't necessary for most of us; it  was the only lettuce we encountered on a daily basis.   We've since learned that romaine, endive, escarole, etc. are more nutritious, tastier (many would disagree) and more stylish.  And the iceberg variety--chef-sanctioned or not--is still around, an expected staple in the produce section. 

Print books may be the iceberg lettuce of the publishing market.  E-book readers, iphones, and laptops are proving handy and functional.  We embrace these more exciting digital products, but that doesn't mean we don't want the store to stock our old favorite, too.  Individuals can (for now) take print volumes for granted, but booksellers and libraries are advised not to.

Oh, and (according to the NPR food expert I heard last week) guess what crunchy, pale-green sandwich staple is predicted to become fashionable again?

Counting the minutes

As they say, never assume.  This week's email inviting City workers to a training session on "time management" sounded more ambitious than it was meant to.  I envisioned the topic as tailor-made for library staffers serving increasing numbers of customers; we want to maximize productivity, both on and off the job.   By the time I'd processed all the details (including the fact that "time management" actually consists of directions for using the new timesheet reporting system), I was all set for a major enrichment experience, not just a useful demonstration.

Dali's melting clockNot that a streamlined payroll process isn't appreciated, but clearly I needed to look elsewhere for lifestyle-enhancing sorts of things.  Thankfully, stacks of them awaited me in New Nonfiction.     

Call me superficial, but the mere sight of shiny, just-delivered volumes promising artsy graphics and /or fresh insights instantly lifts my spirits.  And (also call me cheap) the realization that I can borrow them for free further energizes my thrifty soul.

In my role as library customer, I checked all these out to sample new material that empowers:  inspiring stories, explorations of contemporary concerns, effective strategies.  As a librarian, though, I'm anxious to share.  So, I'll return them just as soon as I finish writing this!

  • The King's Speech:  How One Man Saved the British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi.  Even without Colin Firth, the book version of the story will charm and inspire.
  • Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella by Neil Lanctot.  Not just for baseball fans, this biography of the first African-American catcher in the major leagues examines not only Campanella's personal life but also his contributions to physical therapy research.
  • Epiphany:  True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage, and Transform by Elise Ballard.  The director of Lord of the Wiens (documentary about the Buda Wiener Dog Races) asked notables this:  "Have you ever experienced an epiphany, a life-changing moment or realization?"  Read what Maya Angelou, Deepak Chopra, and others replied.
  • No Small Matter: Science on the Nanoscale by Felice C. Frankel and Georg M. Whitesides.  Nourish your brain cells and dazzle your eyes with dozens of full-page photographs illustrating topics like "writing with light", " sequencing DNA", and "the cell as circus".  The impressively lucid commentary may convince you that you already understood more than you thought.
  • 4 Ingredients:  More than 400 Quick, Easy, and Delicious Recipes Using 4 or Fewer Ingredients by Kim McCosker and Rachael Bermingham.  By lightening your shopping list, this un-intimidating recipe collection offers supreme encouragement.  
  • Getting Your Share of the Pie:  The Complete Guide to Finding Grants by Valerie J. Mann.  The author observes that "it is the organizations that cannot afford grant writers who need grant funds the most."  Don't miss these insider tips.
  • Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us by John Quiggin. An economics professor sheds light on the global financial crisis (and ways to prevent future crises) by tracing historic economic concepts and their consequences.
  • The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School by Alexandra Robbins. The Loner, The Nerd, The Weird Girl, The Band Geek--whether you know them, were one of them, or just want to reassure them that their qualities will ultimately be valued, this book is worth seeking out.
  • The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan. I think the title says it all.