Reader's Exchange

January 2012 - Posts

No applications, just send money

I was that close--nearly made it out the back door before Elaine spotted me and inquired where I was headed.

"The retirement system/457 plan seminar over at the McConico Building," I admitted, hastening to add, "but I'm only going to learn about investments, NOT because I'm about to retire.  Even if I were old enough any time soon, I couldn't in the foreseeable future."  With the door swinging shut, I called back, "You know, not until I'm eighty or ninety..." 

OK, the last part was probably exaggerated; time and the economy will tell, won't they?   But retirement systems work best for those who remain in place for many years.  As a clergy spouse who's relocated often enough to miss out on serious benefit accumulations anywhere, I needed all the information I could get.  Money origami

And then there's the job market.  Due to a dearth of library jobs and an abundance of clever, accomplished library school graduates in the area, even a 10- or 20-hour library opening elicits a feeding frenzy of applications.  Speculation about a not-gonna-happen retirement was best avoided altogether.

Post-seminar, I have devised a two-point plan: read up on investment strategies and start a penny jar to fund lottery ticket purchases. 

I even have pointers for your short-term planning, but thankfully they involve fiction rather than finances.  I haven't gotten my hands on pre-publication copies of these, so file the list under "risky strategy" if you wish.  But these forthcoming books already have booksellers and reviewers talking and thus merit a heads-up:

  • Due out in June, debut novelist Suzanne Joinson's A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar:  The publisher likens its appeal to Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Library Journal deems it "atmospheric" and "highly recommended".
  • From Jeff Shaara, A Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh will be published in late May:  Author and subject speak for themselves, right?
  • Capital by John Lanchester, expected in August:  Isn't this an ominous (in a good way) premise?  The setting is 2008 in London, and residents on Pepys Road are all receiving postcards with the same message:  "We want what you have." 
  • From Chuck Palahniuk, expect Invisible Monsters Remix in June:  Yes, the library has Invisible Monsters, and you may have read it.  But this edition promises new chapters and scenes, a "director's cut."  
  • Chrystle Fiedler's new series featuring naturopathic remedies starts with Death Drops in February:  Will Dr. Willow McQuade find the killer?  Will readers agree with some critics who think less emphasis should go to homeopathic cures and more to the mystery itself?  Fans of cozy mysteries should investigate.
  • From Mark Haddon, The Red House should hit stores and libraries in June:  The author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime envisions an engaging contemporary family scenario.
  • Mary Kay Andrews' Spring Fever sounds perfectly timed for June:  Always a Southern delight, Andrews is a favorite of mine.  Take this one to the beach or--on audio--add entertainment to your drive.
  • In late May, look for Alex Grecian's The YardScotland Yard, that is--you'll find the Yard's first forensic pathologist on the trail of Jack the Ripper.
Where everybody knows your name

Is it right that I appreciate bad book reviews more than good ones?

By "bad", I mean uncomplimentary assessments, not poorly written texts.  Book selectors aren't glass-half-empty folks, but we need to be pragmatists, given that library budgets can't accommodate all forthcoming titles.  We value the rare unvarnished indicators of titles less likely to please our readers.    

A sample from today's reading raises a bright red flag:  "Pretension leaps from the very first page of this trivial, tepid reworking..."  The reviewer goes on to explain precisely where the flaws exist, in his/her opinion.  I'll check with other sources before deciding; the process works. Stamp of approval

Author shorthand is also wonderfully useful for book buyers.   Much can be said about style and quality in few words by equating a newer writer's effect to that of a famous author. Hinting that "followers of Tom Clancy may enjoy" or that "fans of Julian Barnes are likely to appreciate" nicely encapsulates tone, pacing, theme, and so forth.     

Selectors, readers, and publishers all find this device helpful.  For authors, there'd be two rewards: First, finding yourself mentioned along with, say, a bestseller like Nora Roberts or a prizewinner like Jonathan Franzen; secondly, just imagine hearing that a newcomer is being compared to you!    

I thought it would be fun to look up archived early reviews for some authors whom we all know.   When these household names were initially published or auditioning a new series, in whose literary footsteps did they appear destined to follow?

  • John Grisham:  His first, A Time to Kill (1989) had a small initial print run, so I searched our Novelist database for his next,The Firm (1991). From Kirkus Reviews: "Grisham does not cut as deep or furnish the occasional shining paragraph that Scott Turow does, but he writes a stripped, cliché-free page that grip and propels."
  • Janet Evanovich:  Having initially published romances as Steffie Hall, she hit her stride with One for the Money (1994), the first Stephanie Plum title.  Not only did the series opener merit status as a New York Times Notable Book, Booklist review claimed that "...Evanovich's writing is as smooth, clever, and laugh-aloud funny as Robert Parker at his best."
  • Leila Meacham:  San Antonio resident Meacham made a big splash in 2010 with RosesMeacham's hefty (and hugely enjoyable) family saga merited no fewer than three name-droppings in the same Publisher's Weekly review.  Margaret Mitchell was evoked shortly after this bit:  "...may herald the overdue return of those delicious doorstop epics from such writers as Barbara Taylor Bradford and Colleen McCullough."
  • Stuart Woods:  He'd published a number of successes, including the notable Chiefs (1981) already, so we shouldn't be surprised that a Kirkus reviewer of New York Dead (1991), first in the Stone Barrington series, compared the author to--himself.  "Silky-smooth cop thriller", "Woods's best since Under the Lake." 

Sure, some very grand awards beckon--Pulitzer, Nobel, American Book Awards, the Orange Prize, Man Booker Prize, etc.  But you can't tell me that authors don't aspire to a very practical honor, that of having proven so popular with a bookstore chain or library audience that the institution automatically pre-orders anything you publish.

Congratulations, you're now a Standing Order! 

The case of the cold blooded co-worker

Well, if the rest of us hadn't already known who the Favored Employee around here is, we'd figure it out this week.  One of our group has been lavished with attention--photos and videos online, a front page article in the Round Rock Leader, and parties.  We see how the public adores her and how she's kept her figure sleek into middle age.  Why shouldn't other City workers resent Rocksssanne?

But she's as popular with library staffers as she is with our customers.  Twelve years into her employment with the City of Round Rock, she's about to turn fifteen (birthday, January 20), and she's in fine form.  The fact that nobody wants to eat lunch with her doesn't mean a thing!Ball python closeup

Rockssanne, the ideal choice for a library mascot, serves as a fine examplar of public relations.  She also lends the library a bit of novelty.  She even relates to our customers' interest in animals of all kinds.   Every day, we answer questions and supply resources about domesticated creatures (Chicken Breeds and Care, Training the Hard-to-Train Dog), wildlife native to our area ( Texas Snakes: A Field Guide ), prehistoric beasts (The Kingfisher Dinosaur Encyclopedia), even insights into animals' perceptions and behavior (Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation or Animals Make Us Human).

Wouldn't it be nice, I thought, to interview Rocksssanne? And then I remembered: she is a snake, and I possess no Harry Potter-like translation skills.  If other library staffers do, they're keeping this information to themselves.  Instead, let's imagine how such a dialogue might have gone:

Me:  Rocksssanne, I'm honored to have this opportunity.  You're looking great, by the way.

Rocksssanne:  Thanksssss!

Me:  I know you have many customers to entertain, so let's just do a few quick "Inquiring minds want to know" queries, OK?   A favorite activity? 

Rocksssanne:  I always look forward to getting out of my house for a little stretch and playtime.  Jane and Andrea will hang out with me and let me explore around their desks.  Naturally, I'm interested:  each of them has a computer--with a mouse!

Me:  Your favorite color?

Rocksssanne:  I'm kind of nearsighted, and colors don't excite me that much.  Smells, on the other hand...

Me:  Favorite food?

Rocksssane:  You don't want to know.

Me:  Favorite movies? 

Rocksssanne:  I bet you thought I'd say Snakes on a Plane, or Python, or maybe one of the Anaconda movies.  My tastes are actually eclectic.  I also enjoy documentaries about very small mammals (sort of a Food Network for my kind).  Also, I'm fond of classics with a lot of movement and physical comedy, like The Lady EveThose animated credits are a hoot, and Barbara Stanwyck sssslithers almost as well as I do.

Why wait for the 2020s?

You'd think it was Valentine's Day already.  I can practically see the little cartoon hearts and Cupids floating around. 

The reason:  two Christmas-gift Kindles and their newly smitten recipients in my family.  With these devices on site (neither belongs to me), our Focus Quotient has declined markedly.  Whenever the slightest lull in conversation, pet activity, or televised sports occurs, the Kindle owner instantly re-fixates on that little screen.  Every so often, my own reading, working, or thought is interrupted by a delighted exclamation--again, not from me--about some just-realized feature of the e-reader.

I'm happy for them, really I am.  But the non-Kindle world still has its own diversions.

One example is the library's Graphic Novels collection for adult readers.  Still located on second floor, the GNs just emerged from the far side of the circulation counter to a showier location beside the New Fiction shelf at the top of the stairs.  With this shift from a "you know where to find them if you like them" venue to the new "Who knew? Try one!" locale, we're hoping for a Kindle or Nook-like response--discovery and excitement for browsers.

Graphic Novels are for everyone, even if everyone doesn't know this yet.  These illustrated stories represent a vast range of style and content.  More than just comic books (not that comics aren't great) graphic novels offer long-running series, take on social issues, create fantasy worlds, and experiment with new visual techniques.  I'm a certain type of GN novel reader; I don't care for manga or its filmed counterpart, anime.  That segment of the collection I'll leave to the those with a proper appreciation.  On the other hand, Persepolis is a favorite.

Here is a wonderful list from Graphic Novel Reporterfull of intriguing GN possibilities.

My second non-Kindle find almost qualifies as a Graphic Novel; instead, you'll find it in the New Fiction section. Lindbergh arrives in Paris

Admirers of Nick Bantock's lavishly illustrated Griffin and Sabine books should look for The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston.  Every single page of Scrapbook is covered with ticket stubs, magazine clippings, photographs, report cards--a museum-like array of 1920s ephemera.  With artfully arranged pages and brief typed captions, Preston reveals Frankie's adventures (and misadventures) from 1920 through 1928.  I would love to see more books like this one.

You can follow up with Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl, Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple series, or Kerry Greenwood's  Phyrne Fisher series.  Actually, Hildegarde Dolson's hilarious We Shook the Family Tree (out of print, sadly) features the most Frankie-like narrator--who claims that the very day she arrived in New York City, the stock market crashed. 

Scrapbook coverMy guess is that Hildegarde would have liked manga but Frankie wouldn't.  But I'm pretty sure that both would-be sophisticates, given the option, would have gladly traded their daring stashes of cigarettes and lip rouge for an e-reader.  

Entering the resolution-free zone

For all I know, the Twilight Zone marathon (original 1950s-60s iteration) on Syfy Channel could still be broadcasting.  It certainly underscored many of our household activities on New Year's weekend.  As I stirred blackeyed peas, unhooked tree ornaments, and dragged boxes of lights back up the attic ladder, Rod Serling was all the while demonstrating his hypnotic appeal.Spiral galaxy

Who could pay complete attention to anything else--or imagine changing the channel--when William Shatner, Art Carney, Charles Bronson, Martin Landau, and a host of other acting luminaries were embroiled in time travel, eerie parallels, and paranormal hijinks, usually culminating in a "gotcha" conclusion laced with irony? 

Production values have evolved, but the cerebral creepiness of the Zone still sets a high bar for television entertainment.

It also provides a great model for self-improvement in the coming year.  Instead of composing an annual "to do" list meant to transform ourselves into other beings--organized, punctual, socially brilliant--we could behave like Twilight Zone protagonists.  Just envision creative strategies instead of a personality overhaul.

Like Serling's heroes and heroines, we may prove amazingly resourceful in dealing with challenges that beset us.  Those characters would have used the library and internet, too, had those options only been offered:

  • Baffled by financial/investment jargon? Try courses in Investing 101: Stocks, Bonds, & Mutual Funds or Personal Finance 101: How to Manage Your Money by going to the library's home page and enrolling in Universal Class for free.
  • Frustrated because your job provides few opportunities for exercising your creativity? Find inspiration and instructions for spare time projects in the Hobbies and Crafts Reference Center database.
  • Tired of always being the last one in your group to hear about trendy books, especially those inspiring movies coming soon to your area? Take a look at the Book Movement website and check out EarlyWord's "Books to Movies & TV" feature.

Don't get me wrong:  January goal setting presents an uplifting opportunity.  It's just been my experience that a problem-solving approach fares better than, say, unrealistic vows like permanently banishing that on-again off-again seven pounds.

And would you believe that a co-worker just walked in with a plate of double chocolate cheesecake squares?  To my credit, I don't recall saying "yes" (at least verbally).  My hand simply reached toward it, as though I had been transported into another dimension, in which a hand could have a mind of its own and I was powerless to stop it.  It was eerie!