Reader's Exchange

February 2013 - Posts

Never enough awards for "Best Supporting..."

I spotted Wonder Woman in the library a couple of days ago.  Or maybe it was Super Mom; there's scarcely any difference.

The first clue to her identity was the adorable napping baby nestling in a handmade sling tied jauntily around her shoulders.  Without apparent effort, she managed a reading list, a mammoth shoulder bag, and two other children, aged about four and two and a half.  Obviously schooled in Proper Public Behavior Especially in Libraries, the older kids giggled and stage-whispered and held hands, generally being charming with only an occasional soft verbal reminder from Mom.  Her nonverbal communication powers were awe-inspiring. 

We witness many amazingly focused parents, serenely juggling parenthood and information seeking in this most challenging venue, the "quiet floor" AKA upstairs at the library.

No ribbons or statuettes (or, better yet, spa vacations) are awarded for such feats, but they are quietly applauded.   Everyday nurturing, heroically supportive stuff of all kinds inspires authors these days.

Fictional accounts of military families and spouses provide insights appreciated even--or especially--by those not directly affected by postings and deployments.    Siobhan Fallon's You Know When the Men are Gone, set in Ford Hood, Texas (where the author lived for three years) examines daily lives of base residents; story titles include "Leave", "Gold Star", and "You Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming".  Other novelists and romance writers taking up this theme include Kristin Hannah (Home Front); Sally John and Gary Smalley (A Time to Surrender); and Ellen Hopkins (Collateral). 

To discover more novels like these, try searching the library's catalog with subject "military spouses-fiction", "families of military personnel-fiction" or combinations of keywords such as "fiction military Afghanistan".

Some wonderful reads imagine (based on historical research) lives of spouses with another special concern:  celebrity and consequent scrutiny surrounding the husband:  Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife; Sena Jeter Naslund's Ahab's Wife and Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette; Ann Beattie's Mrs. Nixon; Melanie Benjamin's Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb;  Paula McLain's The Paris Wife.

Maxine Kenneth ramps up the fictional component: her Paris to Die For and Spy in a Little Black Dress portray Jacqueline Bouvier (pre-Kennedy) as a CIA trainee and spy.

A marvelous story that etched itself into my memory decades ago (others claim this, as well), Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman, follows a gently reared city girl who marries a Canadian Mountie and relocates to the wilds of northern Alberta in the early 1900s.  Read
it and you'll agree with its "classic" status.  RCMP image

Novels attuned to supporting players demonstrate how partnership with someone in the public eye elicits (at least sometimes) strengths rivaling those of the better-known spouse.

Zelda Fitzgerald, for example, occasionally channeled her spunkiness into advertising for F. Scott Fizgerald's books.  Reporting that she'd recognized bits of her old diary in This Side of Paradise, she invited readers' curiosity by joking, "Mr. Fitzgerald--I believe that is how he spells his name--seems to
believe that plagiarism begins at home."

Living in the Sticks-and-Stones Age

I should appreciate my colleagues in City of Round Rock's Communications division more.  Sure, they've been kind and supportive of this blog all along, but now it appears that they've been bravely fostering a risky venture.  Consider the case of a university librarian in Canada who's being sued for 3.5 million dollars

The librarian in question, who initiated his blog for his students' benefit, describes that content as "mostly about my random thoughts on libraries, the media, and so forth".   The controversial entry (later un-posted) concerns a publisher whom he allegedly deemed "dubious", judging some of the company's academic books to reflect "second-class scholarship". 

As a fellow librarian blogger with similarly random content and a decent-but-not-spectacular readership, I commend his intentions.  Like you, I'm a taxpayer.  Anyone charged with spending funds on books and other acquisitions, as public librarians are, aims to gratify the audience's needs and interests and not expend dollars on unworthy materials.  Expert opinions are essential, but a single one isn't going to rule the day. Decision

Happily for me, I work with fiction, that wonderful and subjective universe which grants value for reasons beyond factuality or currency.  An author who's been pilloried by the critics may be adored by the book-buying (and library-going) public.  In the same afternoon we might overhear one patron grumble that he can't understand why the library would waste money and shelf space on Author So-and-So's "fluff" only to note another customer lamenting the interval before Author So-and-So's forthcoming installment. 

Evidence that fiction offerings don't escape evaluation, the reviews I relish most involve less than flattering pronouncements.  Reviewers devote especial creativity to those, as in the assessment of "too much wuthering, too few heights" or "extends the hackneyed into the realm of the ridiculous".  Should I ever publish a novel myself, frankly I'd prefer a "what was she thinking?" reception over the tepid "somewhat enjoyable" verdict rendered in one of this week's reviews.  Ouch.

Along with professional reviews, publisher marketing, forecasting at events like Book Expo America, social media, and bestseller lists, librarians heed customer preferences, even when our patrons disagree among themselves.

Last Monday, a purchase request for Cora Harrison's Chain of Evidence landed in my email.  "You already have all of her previous books, and they are wonderful," the requester commented.  "Please purchase it!" 

We certainly will.  Cora Harrison isn't a high-demand name here (yet), but her Tudor-era mysteries set in western Ireland are gaining a following.  If you try and appreciate Ms. Harrison's series, you'd probably also savor comparable works by M.J. Trow, Cassandra Clark, Peter Tremayne, Priscilla Royal, and C. J. Sansom.  

And then you can alert me should the library experience a series gap that should be remedied or updated.  While attorneys parse one librarian's opinion, we're glad to focus on what readers think.

My kingdom for a repair estimate

If a significant artifact on the order of Richard III's skeleton is ever unearthed around here, I like to believe that the find wouldn't instigate an internationally publicized squabble between,say, Round Rock and Pflugerville.  Emotions run high when honor and tourism are at stake.  Couldn't Leicester and York both benefit from returning the remains to York for burial?  Leicester could focus on a visitor center chronicling the dig and discovery; York could promote the burial site: traffic neatly distributed, two revenue-generating gift shops.

In truth, the controversy does appear to center on finer feelings of loyalty and respect for the dead.  York gets my vote.  The king had established happier connections there--childhood spent in the region, visits to the city, etc.--whereas Leicester signifies the venue to which his corpse was carted, post-battle, to be hastily stowed for eternity in a grave too short to accommodate his height. 

Analyzing remains of Richard IIIOne could argue that if Richard III deserved half the notoriety attributed to him since his demise (no one's actually proven that he had his nephews killed...) entombment under an eventual parking lot would be about right.  However, the king has a considerable body of defenders (and not just the Richard III Society).  Just serves to demonstrate that when one is gone, the world does indeed continue to spin.

I would give a boxful of autographed advance reading copies to have witnessed the archaeologists' gleeful realization that the skeleton already deemed "of interest" exhibited that distinctive S-curve of the spine.   It's enough for me to imagine that Best Moment Ever--and to speculate which books in our library's collection might be just the thing for others fascinated by their amazing feat of retrieval.

These novels all feature archaeological discoveries in England, Scotland, or Ireland: 

Haunted Ground by Erin Hart
The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley  
The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans
Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon
To Dream of the Dead by Philip Rickman
The Moon Tunnel by Jim Kelly
The Bone Garden by Kate Ellis (part of the Joe Plantagenet series, no less)

Speaking of fortunate excavations and how valuable things come to be buried: I've been reminded this week how that can happen with library resources. 

One of our handiest databases, Auto Repair Reference Center, might escape notice simply because it's one among many databases on offer.  Even if you've used it to look up service bulletins or wiring diagrams, you could miss "Labor Times", listed (for most vehicles) near the bottom of the topics page.  If your vehicle is included, you can use that feature to learn, before you take your car in, how much time is required for the repair and approximately what it should cost.

Oh, and Janette from Youth Services alerted us yesterday about this nifty option in World Book Online: under "Specialty Sites" you can select Craft Corner for age-appropriate educational craft projects.

Maggie Smith's Bacon number: 2

Did you know that the library's getting a new webpage?  Watch for it this spring.  We're already generating content ideas, including more "If you like.." features: additional reading options inspired by favorite authors or themes.  Susan from Youth Services suggested a brilliant one--recommendations for Downton Abbey addicts.  Done!

FICTION:  Habits of the House by Fay Weldon; Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown; The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton; The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate; The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide;  The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones, The Golden Prince by Rebecca Dean.

MUSIC CD:  Downton Abbey: the Essential Collection

NONFICTION:  Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir by Margaret Powell; The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes; Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon; The Chronicles of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes; The Perfect Summer:  England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson; English Country House Interiors by Jeremy Munson; The Mitfords:  Letters between Six Sisters

DVD:  The House of Eliott series; both Upstairs, Downstairs series (original and recent); Gosford Park; Jeeves & Wooster

But a funny thing happened on the way to compiling this list--sort of a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon experience, only with author Henry James.

Examples:  Cora, Countess of Grantham, qualified as a "Buccaneer" (moneyed American beauty on the hunt for an English title to propel her into the upper echelons of society).  Edith Wharton, who authored The Buccaneers, was a good friend and literary colleague of James and even campaigned for him to win the Nobel Prize.  DA notables Dan Stevens and Michele Dockery appeared in a UK filming of James' haunting The Turn of the Screw.  Dan Stevens currently stars (with Jessica Chastain) on Broadway in The Heiress, adapted from James' Washington Square.

Ascending stairs: The HeiressRemember (regarding Edith's letter to the Times editor) the dinner-table allusion that "one of the Churchills" had ventured into journalism?  Well, among numerous other celebrities of the age, Winston Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph, (AKA Mrs. George Cornwallis-West at that time) consulted James regarding the profitability of lecture tours.

Elements of DA that resonate with American viewers--class distinctions giving way;  clashing American and European mores (American energy and spirit vs. hidebound tradition); social complexities, not to mention elegant living and circulating among the "best" circles--characterize HJ's work, too. 

James' hallmark, psychological realism, may not be the primary draw for DA aficionados.  But if you're engaged by the developing thread of the Earl's misfires in paternal influence or Isobel's awkward forays into social activisim (especially if you enjoy speculating on her motives) you might be a James reader and not know it.

If you could only try one James story, make it The Beast in the JungleOther wonderful introductory options are DVDs:  The Golden Bowl (Kate Beckinsale); Wings of the Dove (Helena Bonham Carter), and The Heiress (Olivia de Havilland).  The library has two excellent fiction books--Colm Toibin's The Master and David Lodge's Author, Author--starring Henry James at crucial junctures in his life.

James, whose reputation and work demonstrate remarkable staying power, was quite modern in some ways:  membership in a famously dysfunctional family; cool, trendy friends (Mark Twain was a favorite correspondent); edgy writing schedule (creating serial installments for magazine publication from month to month).  He was even a recycler of sorts, significantly revising and repackaging and translating storylines from stage to page and vice versa.

You may find yourself an HJ convert.  If not, no problem.  As James observed via a character in Portrait of a Lady:  "I don't want everyone to like me; I should think less of myself if some people did."