Reader's Exchange

Try our 2 percent solution

Could have been the caffeine:  twenty ounces of home-brewed latte consumed in a brief commute produces an adequate jolt.  But I suspect that NPR's "2 percent" story (thank you, Neda Ulaby) was the real morning brightener.Audience laughter

Pop culture blogger Linda Holmes cited "an axiom of television comedy writing", the expectation that certain jokes and references will likely be understood by about 2 percent of the audience.  Terms like "dislocation", "fragmentation", and "polarization" abound in similar discussions of contemporary American culture.

Nice to know that I'm not alone in sometimes missing references to the latest reality show phenom, YouTube record-breaker, or music industry sensation du jour.  So long as I don't expect everyone else to fret about the trajectory of e-book vs. print circulation forecasts or discuss relative merits of Emilio's and Anthony Ryan's runway collections, I should get a pass for not tracking the saga of Manti Te'o's girlfriend, right?

In a world of proliferating sensations, social channels, and apps (have you tried the Chihuly digital glass-blowing one?), we run the risk of limiting personal growth by spending too much time--especially online--ensconced with others sharing the same priorities and skill set.

Granted, once you venture beyond your comfort zone, you face a daunting array of opportunities competing for your time and loyalty. To address the learning curve for cultural literacy, you need a staff of assistants to monitor all those fronts for you--or at least a toolkit of go-to resources.

Here at the library, we have a nifty, instantly accessible solution to this very problem: library staff.

I find that American Dialect Society's Words of the Year offers an insightful rundown of recent invention in language usage that also encapsulates significant trends.  But of course that (along with Atlantic Wire's Books We Loved in 2012) is squarely in my English-major bailiwick.

To diversify my informational portfolio, I rely on co-workers like fellow reference staffers Geeta and Chris.  Their recommendations: tech sector sites Ars Technica and Engadget and social news sites Reddit and Alternet(Reddit's alien icon perfectly captures that "stranger in a strange land" feeling that most of us experience with increasing frequency.)

Add to that expertise my daughter's favorite daily update: AppsGoneFree, the app that alerts you which apps can be downloaded for free that day.

And you can still count on live, in-person advice on what to read at the Reference Desk.  Titles on my mind this morning include not shiny-new bestsellers but books read last year and still recalled fondly this year:  Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles, William Landay's Defending Jacob, Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist, Lance Weller's Wilderness.

Finally, no mention of popular culture is complete without a nod to Angry Birds, Honey Boo Boo, or the Dos Equis guy. I don't always reference commercials, but when I do, I plug my favorites.


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