Reader's Exchange

March 2012 - Posts

The good, the bad, and the literate

While brooding about our Western Problem this week, it's been easy for me to imagine Sam Bass and A.W. Grimes finding some aspects of downtown Round Rock--just a few blocks from the Chisholm Trail--pretty familiar. 

You can still mosey in off the street through a set of double doors for music, relaxation, and a chance to re-connect with civilization.  The library is one such place, though we don't currently feature liquor or anyone who could properly be addressed as "barkeep".  We're at least as effective as a saloon in terms of an inside track to local goings-on, which, thanks to our police department, are less volatile than in the old days.

Sam Bass & gangAnd that's our current worry:  too few desperadoes.  We recognize that some folks here in Round Rock are devoted readers of Western novels.  Authors aren't producing as many of the traditional stories--with iconic outlaws and morally upright loner heroes--as they used to.  The Western genre is evolving in much the same way that Romance has, which means that some readers will be gratified or even recruited and others, sadly, not so much.

Our challenge will be to replace volumes that appear to have traveled on one trail ride too many, and we'll seek out new publications for all our Western fans.

Outside of Westerns, hero-villain distinctions are even more diverse and blurry.  Even if the good guy can be readily identified, the bad guy might not be a guy.  In Rebecca Dean's forthcoming The Shadow Queen (fiction) and Juliet Nicholson's Abdication (nonfiction, due out in May), divorcee and eventual Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson stars as the troublemaker. 

In this election year, political figures inspire scathing criticisms and glowing endorsements that end up side by side on the bookshelf.  For further evidence that the powerful and high-placed enjoy no immunity from judgment, consider What in God's Name? by Rich Simon.  Due out in August, Simon's tale imagines that the CEO of Heaven, Inc. has lost interest in Earth; two minor angels have extracted God's promise to prevent the planet's destruction--that is, if they accomplish their near-impossible mission. 

William Kent Kreuger's fictional Trickster's Point (August) features a protagonist convincingly framed for murder.  Identifying the real perpetrator (who's killed the governor-elect with an arrow to the heart) is only one issue; he'll begin doubting the goodness of the deceased every bit as much as the public suspects him

And what if it turns out that we're the miscreants?  Some recent books make a convincing case.  Wasted World: How Our Consumption Challenges the Planet speaks for itself.  Others, such as The Startup of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself..., Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will, Change Your Mind, Change Your Life, and any number of diet and fitness titles highlight our failure to achieve full potential or at least optimum BMI. 

We (unlike Sam Bass) can yet be reformed.  But achieving a lifestyle turnaround or career re-start could demand more spark than we're experiencing that day.  Should we decide to delay our transformation a bit longer and come and hang out downtown--well, worse decisions have been made (e.g., by Sam). Perhaps if the library, Friar Tuck's, Star Co., Junior's, Krave, Louisiana Longhorn, Quinn's, or Main Street Plaza had been options in Sam's day, he'd have achieved a more favorable--not to mention lengthier--outcome

Still, I doubt that he was ever destined to be a latte drinker.   

This old thing? I only wear it when I want to feel uninformed.

"So, you guys are still in it, then?  Way to go!"

The kind gentleman in the queue at Walgreens was addressing me--why?  A quick self-survey revealed that I was sporting a favorite T-shirt, emblazoned with the image of a smiling mythical bird wearing buckled shoes.   The giant letters proclaiming "KANSAS" were another clue. 

Awkward.  I'd chosen the shirt for Saturday because of its nice un-rectangular fit.  Also, it's appropriate for errand running and lawn mowing, two items on the day's checklist.  And Jay the Jayhawk is cute.Basketball hoop

Embarrassed though I am to admit it, NCAA wasn't on my radar screen.

Displayed on my desk is a photo of my daughter at her KU graduation.  I love Lawrence, Kansas; it's a small Austin, minus the capital component.  So, naturally we wish KU well.   And I usually track the NCAA tournament because friends and co-workers are interested, and it's fun.  But I'm not an avid basketball fan; at that moment I couldn't have sworn (though it's a safe guess) that KU was still in the hunt.  Wearing that jersey definitely bought me unearned sports fan cred.

Should I assuage my guilt by reciting the Rock Chalk, Jayhawk chant a few dozen times?   Or maybe I could come clean about some librarian assumptions that don't hold up, either:

  • You librarians must be completely unbiased about genres and authors.  Well, we try.  We tend to seek out books beyond our comfort zones.  For me, joining three book clubs helps me achieve wider experience so that I can recommend reads in less favored areas. To balance my love for English-major standards, I'll try edgier takes on classics: Victoria Patterson's This Vacant Paradise (Wharton's The House of Mirth); Francesca Segal's The Innocents (Wharton's The Age of Innocence); Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters (Shakespeare); Peter Cameron's Coral Glynn (du Maurier's Rebecca); Hilary Jordan's When She Woke (The Scarlet Letter meets The Handmaid's Tale).

  • And surely you're not swayed by pretty book covers or clever titles?  I for one am a sucker for a daring or inventive title--which explains how I first came to appreciate Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and probably accounts for my reading a reasonable amount of nonfiction. As for judging books by their covers--you bet.  That's a good thing.  Particularly with lesser-known authors or publishers, if we select items in the interest of scope and variety, lame book covers still deter potential readers from even trying them. 
  • Even though librarians aren't attorneys or tax preparers, you can tell me which forms I need, right?  No, we really can't--and shouldn'tWe'll gladly help you locate forms when you specify names or numbers, but if we guess which paperwork you need, we could send you down the wrong path entirely. Out of concern for your well-being, we will not be speculating about that. You, our valued customer, deserve better--and by that we mean the expertise of qualified tax and legal professionals!
Award-winning silence not reserved for the Oscars

Did you catch the article about Girl Scouts' 100th anniversary in last weekend's Parade magazine?  My favorite change-is-good reference was the singularly 21st-century merit badges.  According to the GS website, Scouts can now achieve recognition for geocaching, entertainment technology, digital moviemaking, screenwriting, product design, and many such nontraditional pursuits.  All the more reason for you to justify stocking your freezer next time the cookies come up for sale!

Authors and publishers, too, are realigning classic concepts to current trends.   This recently acquired selection in the library's New Nonfiction collection is from Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc.: How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age.   Astrology and cookbooks are two perennially popular topics here, so this 2012 offering should find an audience:  Lobster for Leos, Cookies for Capricorns: an Astrology Lover's Cookbook.

With her gutsy new memoir about rearing two autistic sons, independent filmmaker Jeni Decker revisits both a timely concern of recent years and a comic success from David Sedaris.  Titled I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames:  My Insane Life Raising Two Boys with Autism, Decker's book offers a candid take on what is generally rendered as a solemn undertaking.Scene from

Another theme receiving an overdue re-think involves approximately one third of the population:  introverts.  According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, those born with an introverted constitution are generally thought to possess "a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology". 

Cain observes that Western culture actively rewards extroverts; she seeks to promote the merit of introverted modes.  Psychologists have noted that these behaviors--listening, reflection, analysis, sustained attention--offer great value in the workplace.  Cain notes that introverts manifest high degrees of innovation and creativity.  Forbes' photo gallery of World's Most Famous Introverts includes, among others, Warren Buffett, Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling, Larry Page (co-founder of Google) and Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple).

An introvert myself, I was nonetheless surprised (pleasantly) by some assertions in articles I found online via the library's Academic Search Complete database (including "Just Be Quiet" in the Jan/Feb 2012 Psychology Today," Introverted Talent in America, Buried by the ‘Influence Score'" in in the 10/7/2011 Christian Science Monitor, and "In Quiet Praise of Introverts" from the 1/24/2012 USA Today). 

Amazing strides forward could be accomplished if extroverts and introverts alike devoted a bit more effort to appreciate and emulate one anothers' gifts.  Those of you who have maintained successful life partnerships with a member of the opposite persuasion know what I mean.

My husband delights in pointing out how frequently, in the course of reporting some heinous crime, newscasters employ the expression, "Neighbors described him as a quiet man...."

Though not a psychologist, I can personally report a high correlation between introversion and sense of humor.

Beware the sticker shock of March

Never underestimate the power of the shamrock.

Determined to forgo the usual March themes for book displays--Irish-Americans, springtime--I first imagined a celebration of National Caffeine Month (maybe next year) but settled on horror fiction.  Beneath a graphic that co-worker Kate judged "really creepy" lurks an assortment of chillers starring Dracula and his kind, zombies, and other popular but horrifying stuff.  This array is titled Beware the Ides of March AND...

Wire shamrockIt's eye-catching, all right, but so far those books don't seem to be moving as briskly as book tower items generally do.  Is the topic too off-putting?  Or are patrons resisting the shamrock-free selections because they've vowed to get their taxes completed this week? 

At least the nod to Julius Caesar works--too well. 

"Beware the Ides..." is an entertaining allusion for those of us who aren't Caesar.  We relish the novelty of alarm; the Ides is only one day per month, and anyway it doesn't apply to us.  This week, however, another JC quotation came to mind.  The library community is pondering the latest news from e-book publishers, and that does concern us.

Remember Marc Antony's inspired appeal to the crowd:  "Lend me your ears"?  It's deemed a great example of metonymy: substituting a word representative of an attribute for what is actually meant.  What Antony really wants to borrow, of course, is the crowd's attention.

Famous lenders ourselves, library people who circulate books are honestly more excited about sharing the knowledge in them (and in our e-books, databases, audiovisuals, and events).  Our customers may think we're about loaning books, but we're fundamentally about access.

And because we provide (ebooks are leased through Overdrive, the major supplier/lender of ebooks to public libraries, for as long as a contract is active with them) that access with tax dollars, libraries nationwide have been anxiously monitoring moves by major publishers seeking favorable distribution formulas for their ebooks:

Last year, HarperCollins placed a 26-checkout limit on ebooks leased to libraries. Libraries pay HarperCollins' price for the product but may no longer access it after the 26th use.

Last month, Penguin Group closed its partnership with Overdrive, which is our library's ebook platform. We were allowed to keep the Penguin titles we'd already leased (Kindle users now need to follow a new workaround procedure for those). We cannot, however, acquire any new Penguin ebooks for our patrons to borrow; those must be purchased individually by private users. Penguin still allows libraries to purchase and share its printed books. Other "Big Six" publishers who do not make new ebook titles available to libraries include Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan.

Last week, Random House announced price increases for ebooks leased to libraries. Some charges rose as much as 300%.   A library leasing Eisenhower in War and Peace before the price jump would have paid $40; after the hike, it's $120. Blessings by Anna Quindlen now costs $45.00, triple the $15 "before" price tag. George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons now lists at $105.00 in ebook format.

This surely won't be the first or only time anyone says this, but I can't resist:  Et tu, Random House?