Reader's Exchange

June 2012 - Posts

Are tall people more energy efficient?

Could be--and not just because they create more shade outdoors.  I developed this theory following a recent local newscast (topic: Let's Avoid Blackouts) reminding us that the clothes dryer is a major electricity consumer.  

For those of us exceeding average stature, three-quarter length sleeves (a term preferable to "long-sleeved but not long enough") are a default fashion statement.  We hang jeans and trousers to dry upside down so the weight stretches natural fibers, producing another quarter inch of ankle coverage.  Actually, since the clothes dryer is a threat to hem length, putting all garments on hangers to dry is the way to go.  That strategy works so well that I give my dryer a further vacation, draping towels over backyard furniture and railings to benefit from solar action.

Energy-saving inspirations are everywhere.   The live deck monitor for the solar array at Round Rock City Hall is data-rich and a visual learner's delight.  As we make incremental improvements--efficient light bulbs, solar shades, reduced appliance use--we can share in the more impressive achievement of a CO2 offset equaling 3,719 trees.  The State Energy Conservation Office's "Energy Conservation in the Home" Fact Sheet concisely illustrates keys concepts: radiant barriers, ridge venting, heat transfer in windows, etc. that all homeowners should know. 

From the U.S. Department of Energy, "Estimating Appliance and Home Electronic Energy Use" lists enough specific data about individual appliances and how much they consume (not to mention what you'll be paying annually to run your aquarium, dishwasher, toaster oven, etc.) that you may begin to reconsider whether they truly enhance your lifestyle.

The good news?  You could justify doing less ironing and vacuuming.  The bad news?  You're probably hosting energy vampires.   According to this National Geographic article (and numerous other sources), those are electronics and appliances that drain energy even while switched off.  Don't reach for the garlic; get a power strip.Energy sharing

Here's a summer entertainment option costing you relatively little in terms of energy use and cash:  group viewings of library DVDs.   True, the television and DVD player require electricity; however, the family or bunch of friends and neighbors shares one screen instead of utilizing multiple devices.  You're not consuming fuel driving to another destination, and library checkouts are free. 

You probably knew that the library offers hundreds of children's DVDs; you can also pinpoint a television series that you either already love and want to revisit or sample for the first time.  A subject search for "television series" results in nearly 200 offerings, including True Blood, Prime Suspect, Sherlock, Dexter, The Sopranos, Midsomer Murders, and lots more.

A subject search for "documentary films" lists several hundred choices: serious (Regret to Inform; philosophic (The Nature of Existence); historic (Freedom Flyers of Tuskegee, British Royal Weddings of the 20th Century); even wonderfully specific (Tupperware!, The Meaning of Tea: A Tea Inspired Journey).

You will discover an engagingly informative treatment of a topic perfect for your audience, literary (Dickens in America), pet lovers (Dogs Decoded), area history fans (Texas Rangers) or whomever.  Should your gathering relish a spirited or even controversial discussion, consider Sicko, Hot Coffee: Is Justice Being Served?, Finding Life Beyond Earth, God in America or another title that you'll readily identify as a conversation-starter.

Thoughtfully saving energy, you'll also spark opinions and generate excitement.  Your activity won't register on the City Hall deck monitor, but it'll make the world a better and more entertaining place.

Enjoy a steady diet of surprises

At one time or another, parents require the reassurance of that longstanding nutritional theory (that Junior's current fixation on nothing but peanut butter or cheese or oranges or cereal, etc. merely indicates his body's pursuit of a particular vitamin or mineral). 

You'd think that an empty nester with reasonable eating habits could jettison any such concerns, yet I appear to be driven by the corollary regarding fiction consumption.  I suspect my system to be deficient in literary dread.  Not usually a fan of thrillers or plot creepiness, I subconsciously seek that element wherever I look.

How else to explain that when I observed a publisher's ad for The Unexpected Houseplant, I entertained visions of a gargantuan carnivorous bloom commanding "Feed Me"?  (Alternatively, I wondered whether a posthumous manuscript by Edward Gorey may have just come to light.)

But no.  Closer inspection revealed Unexpected Houseplant's subtitle:  220 Unexpected Choices for Every Spot in Your Home--also tastefully demure botanical cover art.  I was strangely disappointed.

IguanaMy craving could also account for a similar letdown:  Colm Toibin's just-published New Ways to Kill Your Mother (subtitle: Writers and Their Families).  Once I've read something like Zombie Island and restored my equilibrium, I'll pick up favorite author Toibin's latest and appreciate it on its intended terms.  In the meantime, it's heartening to learn that my advance copy of Diana Wagman's The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets actually does feature a startling seven-foot iguana and that Christopher Coake's ominously titled new You Came Back delivers a truly nightmarish scenario.

Always an easy mark for a witty book title, I award extra credit to those new and forthcoming offerings referencing Shakespeare (The Evil That Men Do) or employing wordplay (Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim, SEAL Team 666).  And, for sheer attention-getting value, one has to acknowledge Grandad, There's A Head on the Beach. 

 Alexander McCall Smith (The Full Cupboard of Life, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built) consistently charms with titles that could have been lifted from Victorian texts--or perhaps hastily translated from a foreign language.   Due out in October:  The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds.

Though, fortunately, good titles usually designate good texts, especially clever names--like Gary Shteyngart's (2011) Super Sad True Love Story--can be so perfectly calibrated to the book's tone as to invite misinterpretation.   When I nominated Super Sad for a book group's upcoming slate, a male participant countered with, "Nooooo!  No chick books!"  Not to worry, guys.

And here's a tip for anyone (miraculously) unaware of the buzz surrounding Fifty Shades of GreyIt isn't about interior decorating.

Name dropping is only tacky when other people do it

Along with "New York City", several vacation experiences (last week) are three-word expressions: "Book Expo America", "James Earl Jones", "advance reading copies", "The Daily Show", "The Colbert Report", "discounted theater tickets", "live author appearances", and, last but not least, "Take a number" (AKA "Line forms here"). 

Though publishers and booksellers value BEA's marketing opportunities, librarians like me flock to the debut author interviews, publisher "buzz" panels, and appearances by literary notables.  We collect impressions about forthcoming books (and what they'll represent to our readers); we also gather coveted galleys/advance copies of books not yet available to the public.

In Sunlight and in ShadowSome giveaways are scheduled, others offered at unannounced intervals, all limited to supplies on hand; thus, the thrill of the hunt adds to the joy of acquisition.  The #1 item on my galley wish list, Mark Helprin's In Sunlight and In Shadow, cost me several passes by the publisher's booth and an opening-hour arrival to acquire--and it's decidedly worth the effort.

With scores of other fans, I cheerfully queued up for autographed volumes (and ever-so-brief chats) with Dan Rather, Robert Goolrick, Sabrina Soto, Buddy Guy, Tim Gunn, Amor Towles, Janet Groth, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), and numerous others graciously braving the rigors of rapid-fire introductions and cramped autographing areas to sign copies and greet their readers.  An hour in the Lemony Snicket line garnered me a bit of conversation, not to mention a signed souvenir briefcase full of clever items promoting Who Could That Be At This Hour? 

Little did I expect a second encounter the very next day.   En route to a galley quest, I found an amiable crowd surrounding Handler as he drew the winning card for a monstrously large and glamorous Lemony Snicket gift basket.  When no winner stepped forward and a fan offered her cell phone, the congratulatory call to the recipient evolved into performance art: Handler channeled Lemony Snicket, intoning a hilariously snarky alert implying that the prize was a dreadful mess destined to arrive at the winner's home no matter what preventive lengths she or anyone else might sensibly attempt.  Inviting all present to "Booooo!" their disappointment (and we did), Handler closed with fervent advice:  "This is absolutely vital.  Listen carefully.  Whatever happens, don't...."  And he clicked "End".  Applause!   Seldom have drawing losers appeared happier with their lot.

Frequently, a lengthy wait (like virtue) is its own reward in terms of networking.  In Tim Gunn's queue, another Project Runway fan and I enthused about previous seasons and the talents of designer Mondo.  But despite the common denominator of Gunn fan-dom, we'd traveled to BEA on different missions.  New acquaintance and award-winning paper engineer Mary Beth Cryan primarily expected to meet with clients.  If you check her website, you'll find Mary Beth's amazing cards (for MoMA), party goods, books, designs, and 3D paper sculptures as delightful as I found her personality.

Companions in other queues yielded BEA gossip: which author wasn't projecting interest in her fans; the one celebrity who didn't look more attractive in person than on the screen; people who (tsk, tsk) scooped up more than one free item per display.  And, regarding the much publicized Author Breakfast hosted by Stephen Colbert, someone noted--and I agree--that novelist Barbara Kingsolver (featured along with Jo Nesbo and Junot Diaz), generated as much audience laughter as Colbert did.

Of course, waiting time often translated into sharing, trading, and chatting about the contents of our heavily laden tote bags.  Of all the treasures that I packed up and am awaiting from UPS delivery, I'm most anxious to read titles featured in last Monday's debut author panel: Beatriz Williams' Overseas; Karen Engelmann's The Stockholm Octavo; librarian Eleanor Kuhns' A Simple Murder; Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead; Ariel S. Winter's The 20-Year Death.  The opportunity to sample first novels from passionate writers whom I've heard in person is a rare privilege.

Once my parcels from BEA arrive, some of the books will go to library customers, fellow librarians, and book club members who are most likely to appreciate them and promote them to others.

As for the nifty non-book swag-- the aforementioned Lemony Snicket briefcase and selected other unique BEA goodies will be featured door prizes at Friday's Happy Hour with the Librarians.  We hope to see you there.  And we promise--no queue!