Reader's Exchange

November 2012 - Posts

Why holiday notes are even better than cards

This time of year, surprises should arrive tied with a bow or layered in a tin with other similarly delectable items.  As for the other kind of eye-opener (say, the dawning realization that the updated flower bed shape doesn't fit our Christmas lights like the old one), those can be difficult to appreciate.

My mood began trending upward, however, when the workaround proved to look okay.  All was calm and bright until our neighbor strolled over, observing that he and his wife had been discussing the new landscaping and were "worried" about it. 

These are fantastic neighbors, the kind whose opinion matters.  My spirits already threatened to sag before he finished, "...because it looks like you're staging your house to sell."

We're not; as I explained, but we did need to vanquish the encroaching mess of shrubbery that we'd dubbed The Fortress of Green.  As it turns out, there are worse things than being advised that one's departure from the neighborhood would be regrettable.

Here's the moral of that story:  Moods can turn on a dime.  So don't wait until you're feeling the holiday spirit to embark upon seasonal tasks.  Give yourself permission to grumble as you drag boxes down from the attic or pout as you untangle strings of lights.  By the time good cheer inhabits your soul, you'll celebrate it even more in a festive setting.

Better yet, tune into music guaranteed to energize, inspire, or instantly improve your day.  In search of a can't-miss slate of tunes for just this purpose, I asked around for "absolute favorite tunes, holiday or not, that you'd recommend for a day-brightening mix." Guitar cookies

And, thanks to library staffers Kate, Theresa, Linda C, Elaine T, Eric, Mary, Candy, Chris, Chip, Joe, Pat M, David, and our friend Shannon from the City's Communication Division, we're offering this lineup almost certain to include some of your favorites.  We call it

The Round Rock Public Library Holiday/Everyday Playlist

 "What a Wonderful World" sung by Willie Nelson
"Linus and Lucy" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
"Skating" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
Handel's Messiah - "Hallelujah Chorus"
"Stormy Monday" by The Allman Brothers Band
"River" by Joni Mitchell
"Messages"  by Xavier Rudd
"Christmas Don't Be Late" by Alvin and the Chipmunks
"I Was Made For Sunny Days" by The Weepies
"Simple Gifts" by Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss
"St. Thomas" by Sonny Rollins
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by Charlie Daniels Band
"What A Wonderful World" sung by Louis Armstrong
"Where were You When the World Stopped Turning" by Alan Jackson
"The Lord's Prayer" sung by Andy Williams
"Christmas Time is Here" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
"Sleigh Ride" (instrumental) by Leroy Anderson
"Java" by Al Hirt

Better watch out

A certain approaching event conjures up a vivid image:  busy workers frantically readying shipments of delightful items for wide, eagerly received distribution. 

Santa's elves are probably working overtime, too.  But I was thinking of forthcoming books; yesterday I read a review for Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls, due out in early January.  I loved this author's The Day the Falls Stood Still so am anxious to get my hands on this new novel about two sisters in Belle Époque Paris.

Since we cherish the notion of handmade toys and gingerbread men lovingly manufactuerd on a holly-wreathed assembly line, it's not hard toParis Christmas card imagine all that affection and energy in a production model for writing.  True, this couldn't be contained in one venue;  writers all over the country--sometimes even in other countries--labor over laptops or typewriters (that likely are not adorned with twinkles, ribbon, or greenery) crafting our next favorite reads.  Scattered though these industrious creators may be, the end results prove just as celebratory.  Boxes and digital downloads, materializing when promised, are joyously accepted.

Anticipation is half the fun; watch the library for these upcoming deliveries: 

If you've already seen Kevin J. Anderson's Death Warmed Over, you know that it features Zombie P.I. Dan Shamble, who is busy solving his own murder.  Dan's next adventure, Unnatural Acts, is lurching toward its publication date.   Readers fond of small-town characters, Scotland, and cozy mysteries will applaud A.D. Scott's Beneath the Abbey Wall.  While you're waiting, check out A Small Death in the Great Glen and A Double Death on the Black Isle.  Austinite and award-winning romantic suspense author Laura Griffin continues her Tracers series with Scorched.  Round Rock Public Library has all of the earlier Tracer entries.

I read an advance copy of debut author Elizabeth Black's The Drowning House so can attest to its being atmospheric and memorable.  Given its setting in Galveston; Erik Larsons's Isaac's Storm would be the ideal companion read.  Tracy Chevalier, highly successful with European historical fiction titles (e.g., Girl with a Pearl Earring) will offer a tale based on American history (Underground Railroad), The Last Runaway.  Another Austin resident, Manuel Gonzales, has published in some notable magazines and currently is receiving enviable notices (including a starred review from Publishers Weekly) for his short story collection, The Miniature Wife & Other Stories.

Fans of Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony Award-winning author Harlan Coben will rejoice to hear that Six Years is due out this spring.

Alan Brennert, whose  Moloka'i  proved such a book group favorite that it won a "Bookies" Award in 2006 as Book Club Book of the Year, now brings us the decades-spanning Palisades Park.  And fans of Edward Rutherfurd's epic historical sagas (Sarum, London, New York: The Novel) will cheer the publication of Paris: The Novel in April--and should go ahead and clear a couple of days on their calendars.  Fellow readers will understand.

This November, success is in the bag

If you hear an odd metallic noise anytime in November, just ignore it.  It's the sound of literary standards being ratcheted down another notch. 

Under normal circumstances, we readers maintain the loftiest of expectations, which of course do not include cliché's, repetitive word choices, or plot mechanisms that either strain credulity or just downright insult it.

But these are extraordinary times, my friend.  November is National Novel Writing Month, and this year I am (usually late at night) concocting what is tentatively dubbed Another Terrible Novel.  Given that 50,000 words are required to cross the finish line on November 30, I'm not far behind the pace at my current 22,184.  This sum has only been achieved thanks to vats of caffeine and no thanks to a few unscheduled events of the sort that promise to continue throughout the month.NaNoWriMo logo

Does this sound like an excuse for a further diminishment of prose quality over the next two weeks?  Oh, good; that's a relief.  To be fair (to myself) we NaNoWriMo aspirants know at the outset that quantity really is the goal.  To produce a 150-page document in 30 days, writers are compelled to "just go with it".  In the sheer desperation of getting something--anything--down on the page, they are driven to thoroughly ransack their memories and psyches for material.

The process is much like finding oneself back in elementary school;  it's lunchtime, and you're opening the mysterious brown paper bag that you've carried all morning but didn't inventory until this minute.  Clearly requiring sustenance, you dig deep and drag everything out.   Appalled at first by offerings that look unpalatable (to you and, you're sure, every other person in the lunchroom) you check again--and spy a raw vegetable slightly past its prime.

Now, you're generally more of a cheese-and-crackers or apple sort of person, but those options aren't present.  Suddenly that carrot or whatever represents all manner of possibilities.  With creative thought, it could be rendered quite satisfying.   And--on a very few occasions--you peer into the sack just once more and discover a tantalizing morsel that anyone would covet.  You had only to delve into those dark recesses.

This all explains why writing quality occurs as a happy surprise, not an expectation, when the writer grasps frantically to fill in a blank.  I once noted that, in an otherwise nicely written novel, the author chose the phrase "shaped like a sarcophagus" enough times that it evolved into a joke, detracting from a more than competent story line.

Last week, on the verge of creating a time-traveling heroine deserving of a dashing name, I assisted a library customer searching for a book by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier.  Brilliant!  That night, my character was christened "Augusta".   And I realized how unsuspecting library customers could aid me in answering the 50,000-word question.  I only have to pay attention.   And they'll easily find me at the reference desk.  It's as large as a sarcophagus.

We must be counter intuitive

You've heard that caution about never asking a question to which you don't know the answer;  it's generally referenced in legal contexts but could be dicey for public services, too.

Ever since Michelle, our director, announced that a consulting firm would conduct focus groups and surveys for the Library Master Plan process, we've felt awfully curious about what our patrons would rate Good or Not So Good (actual category names).   We're still accepting survey responses and will need to await the final accounting, but we've seen a sampling already.

Rather than many repetitions of a few themes, our patrons conveyed opinions on a wide array of topics, from the scarcity of transit options to an impression that we focus too much on children.

One we haven't heard in a while: in the "Not So Good" column, one customer commented "Miss people behind the counters."Old-fashioned library counter

We understand.  The first time I ventured into the library as a new resident in 2005, I was amazed to find many library staffers visible on first floor, at and behind the counter, shelving and checking in books; there was no behind-the-scenes circulation workroom.   The library's renovation carved out a check-in room and gallery display/seating area in the square footage formerly carpeted with book carts.  Along with our Children's area, the grownups' part of first floor is now a destination, not just a path to checkout.

The downstairs Public Services Desk was reconfigured for compactness but still accommodates a live staffer and our self-check machines; those allow the deployment of other humans for tasks machines can't do.  Thus, we manage to serve an ever-growing population.

You'll still find friendly faces behind the counters.  At the reference desk, we often hear stories that inspire a big "Great question!" smile.  Recent examples...

The customer who requested "recipes in a jar" cookbooks: Ours had disappeared or were worn out. Theresa, our collection development manager, is on the case: 100 Easy Recipes in Jars and Mason Jar Soup to Nuts Cookbook are now on order. Here's the best part: the customer shared, as she departed, that she recently won a Ghirardelli baking contest and promised to bring in her winning recipe next time.

The couple with the unidentified painting: We figured out a strategy: send photos of the painting (reckoned by their conservator to be German and created 1850s-70s) to a museum in the region of origin. Asked who referred them to such a knowledgeable expert, they replied, "Itzhak Perlman." They'd lived in an area of New York favored by such notables as Perlman, Henry Kissinger, Jane Alexander (with whom they'd once Christmas caroled).

The ladies who brought in "Flat Sarah" and asked for Sam Bass information: Sarah was a substitute for the original Flat Stanley who'd sadly disappeared on his return trip from Europe. Being photographed with Sarah and Sam Bass (via computer screen), I observed that Sarah must be tired; her color looked a little washed out. "Oh, that", one of her escorts responded, "No, it's because we were taking her picture on the Round Rock and she fell into Brushy Creek!"