Reader's Exchange

October 2012 - Posts

Yes, Yoda, there is a "try"

Those Texas Book Festival planners are geniuses.  Imagine not only producing a weekend of superb literary presentations but also conjuring up October weather that feels like October? 

I, however, am not brilliant and consequently found myself at TBF with 25 precious minutes available for reading--and no book.  The advance copy of Amity Gaige's Schroder intended for that purpose was left basking in the gloom of the parking garage.

At least I'd arrived early for this speaker and secured an auditorium seat fronting the upper section.  Unearthing paper and pen, I spent the interval savoring the novelty of leg room and generating character names for my book.  National Novel Writing Month begins this week; thank goodness I finally have the skeleton (how appropriate) of a plot.

The story line involves a couple dozen individuals--people resembling the array of citizenry streaming into that very location, I realized.  Inventorying the audience, I cast my novel by identifying types like those in the story and engineering monikers to suit each one's persona.

If you were present, you could end up in my fictional creation (sort of), but no one would ever know.  Besides, if this NaNoWriMo result achieves the quality of last year's effort, I'll hit "delete" and vaporize it as soon the word count is verified.  Having learned much from the previous experience, I'm striving for a standard above "no one should ever see this". Yoda reads Aim high: that's my motto.                                      

Contently scribbling notes for a tale not fated to enrich humankind, I'd awaited a presentation by David Shapard, creator of annotated Jane Austen novels.  Shapard contended that Jane Austen could be the greatest English-language novelist ever.  Was it symmetry, balance, or irony provoking that auditorium to simultaneously host evidence of the best and the worst in fiction?

Shapard also noted-- supporting his "greatest" assertion--that critics' esteem for Austen's work has (remarkably) not fluctuated over time.  And I mentally applauded Shapard's assertion that Austen's "good" characters are not dull.  Having earlier quoted a couple of snarky one-liners mined from Austen's correspondence, Shapard conjectured that Austen characters were sometimes allowed to publicly overstep and later repent, much in the way that the author herself may have.  Goodness, Shapard maintains, was "an achievement".

En route to the next venue amid readers, authors, event organizers--achievers all--I considered why NaNoWriMo authors sign on for a grueling month-long writing assignment practically guaranteed to engender a document that's, er, flawed.   The reason:  success can follow only the act of putting oneself out there and awaiting the consequences.

And if the result seems a universe away from Jane Austen?  Well, NaNo is an achievement in itself.   At least, you'll have proven Yoda wrong.

What's in a meme?

 Statistics can really class up a blog, but let's avoid those undecided voter polls (too changeable).   This data is rock solid:  1 television, 3 people, 2 dogs,1 crockpot full of barbecued brisket--our household's inventory for an evening of Presidential debate viewing.

 Add to that 1 laptop on, trolling for the latest tweets and posts responding in real time to the candidates' performances. 

 The opponents' verbal sparring is compelling already and, thanks to Big Bird, malarkey, and binders full of women (just Google "presidential debate memes" for many others), internet-borne memes continue to materialize, gladdening hearts in both camps. 

 Admiring a particularly clever posting online, I suddenly wondered when "meme" became an everyday word.  Of course, it isn't a new concept, but it seems to have eased into the realm of casual chitchat fairly recently.  "According to Wikipedia", my daughter read, "meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976."Futuristic sparkles

I countered that Dawkins couldn't possibly have invented the term since I knew for certain that Vannevar Bush's Memex machine would have been the inspiration for the word.  As bits of "Introduction to Information Science" reading from years back surfaced, I went on to claim that that Bush was the first to envision hyperlinking, as far back as the 1940s. (This topic doesn't come up often; one has to trot out one's store of fun facts when one has the chance.)

Well, so much for certainty.  While a few sources believe Bush to be the originator of the term, I saw far more solid evidence for Dawkins. 

At least the Memex/hyperlinking part was accurate:  Vannevar Bush--MIT professor, former director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, technological visionary--did indeed pioneer hypertext research.  He was a fascinating individual, and his prescient writings, including the landmark "As We May Think", make great reading even (or especially) today. 

If the current political meme-fest hasn't claimed all your spare time, you might want to check out these and other resources about memes and their informational context at the library:

  • The Information by James Gleick
  • The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think by Robert Aunger
  • This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future

    But first, you owe it to yourself to view this ingenious animated demo of the Memex machine. 
Got the message?

Board meetings are like Thanksgiving; I'm much happier during and afterward than before.  Wednesday's session was fine; after two years in this area of church administration the four of us can finish each other's sentences and interpret nonverbal shorthand.  If you're going to serve as the minutes-taker (my job this month) this is the group to record. 

In the midst of brainstorming and task delegation, I enjoyed seeing our chairperson's flashy new bracelet thoughtfully readjusted each time the wearer pondered a point.  This accessory had been distributed that day in her workplace, she explained.  The bright orange band read "Talk. Text. Crash."  This was the first bracelet from TxDOT's Distracted Driving Campaign that I'd seen.

Five minutes after concluding the meeting and heading back to Round Rock I became a distracted driver myself. 

But not that kind: my phone stays zipped into my handbag when I'm driving.   During the couple of seconds I viewed a particular roadside sign, I was sidetracked from one part of the ad by another one. 

The professionally lettered placard promoted a special rate for a massage at a nearby spa.  But I couldn't tell you what that price was; I was too diverted by the mixed message set before us.  The young man propping up the sign braced the edge with one hand; with the other he cradled his (obviously engrossing) cell phone.  To hear the caller better, he'd swiveled his body completely away from oncoming traffic.Message in a bottle

What better way to convey a service associated with personal focus and individual attention than turning your back on your entire potential customer base? 

To be fair, let's conclude that the sign presenter responded to just one urgent message and had been actively seeking eye contact with the traffic stream the other 99.5% of his shift.  No one knows better than librarians how ubiquitous cell phones are. 

Along with requests for more programs, DVDs, eBooks, bestsellers, etc. library staffers are frequently asked to persevere in establishing a calm, study-conducive atmosphere on second floor.  You can imagine why this scenario challenges everyone.  We achieve a fair rate of success only because staff and empathetic customers all pitch in to make it so.

The library has received an online award for "Best Study Spot", and customers tell us, "My family won't be quiet, so I'm counting on you all for that."

Upstairs, you'll see lovely green signs picturing ferns and a barely rippling pond surface, gently establishing Quiet Floor territory.  Should your cell phone or conversation exceed what other customers expect, we'd offer you a pretty fern-themed card as a reminder. 

You'll probably appreciate these scenic, watery communiqués as much as we do.  Not only do they help ensure you can study and work, they also remind you that, when you're ready to play, the fountains, music, and conviviality of Main Street Plaza await just a few steps away.

Here we go again

Earlier in the week, two distinguished-looking individuals smiling determinedly, perfectly tailored, and sporting patriotic ties strode onto the debate platform.  Witnessing this, my daughter and I echoed one another's' thoughts:  There go two very brave men.  Political tiesPatriotic tie

Imagine millions of people scrutinizing--and potentially misinterpreting--every nuance of body language and parsing every syllable you utter.  No amount of coaching can guarantee that you won't slip up and offer your opponent the perfect opening for a memorable comeback or future one-liner.

The first outing afforded us no "There you go again"s or silver feet.   But missteps are inevitable, as one candidate had been reminded when he failed to mention military personnel at a crucial juncture during his party's convention.

Though merely a voter, I, too, had reason to recall (twice) this week how prominently the experiences of servicepersons and veterans figure in our culture.  Two novels I selected randomly from my "read ‘em while they're still new" pile both examined the plight of war veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Rebecca Coleman's new Heaven Should Fall imagines the case of a veteran of the war in Afghanistan contending with PTSD and his extended family's increasingly skewed worldview.  The veteran's new sister-in-law Jill perceives what no one else in the Olmstead clan is willing to admit, that Elias requires not only assistance but also an advocate dedicated to his welfare and to demanding the resources due him. 

The Olmsteads' assessment of the role of government is a story in itself, one that Coleman integrates skillfully.  When are regulations inconvenient and when are they unjust?    How do you balance family loyalty and concern for the welfare of others?  How do you detect suspect agendas labeled as patriotism?  These questions are implicit within the exciting story line--also quite familiar to our two debaters.

 In Selden Edwards' The Lost Prince (which I highly recommend, though you should read The Little Book first), a sensitive intellectual is consigned to a remote European hospital outpost, destined for an asylum; the horrors of battle have rendered him unable to communicate and to reclaim his identity.  In this story, the war in question is World War I.  Then, his condition would have been labeled "shell shock".

Edwards' latest also prominently features historical luminaries--J.P. Morgan, William James, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, to name a few--as characters, vivid descriptions of the landscape in immediate postwar Europe, and insights into corporate empire-building in early  20th-century America.

Read Lost Prince yourself to discover whether the stricken soldier is found and recovered, but it won't spoil the conclusion to predict that you, too, will be delighted by the strategy adopted by a friend bound to locate the missing soldier at all costs:  venturing into immediate postwar Austria and Italy armed with the one property most apt to ease travel and communication obstacles: a suitcase filled with American currency.

I'll never think of "emotional baggage" in quite the same way again.