Reader's Exchange

March 2013 - Posts

A Texan a day...

Sam Bass is still causing trouble: the third request from out-of-towners for "the shootout map" (starring Mr. Bass in his final appearance) this week triggered my realization that March is done and I missed Texas Independence Day.

Visitors, bless ‘em, have shown more regard for Texas history than I have lately.

Perhaps if I were a fifth-generation Texas like my husband (I'm only fourth generation) my devotion would surface at less erratic intervals.  He checks in daily with the Texas State Historical Association's Texas Day By Day.

I may be subconsciously preventing schedule erosion by visiting this remarkable compendium less often.   Though immune to other digital lures--online gaming, serial Facebook updating--I am helpless in the face of so many links to pursue and can't resist roaming beyond TSHA's daily offerings to explore further.  

You'd be amazed at the variety of lore chronicled therein.  Not a native?  All the more reason to acquaint yourself with Three-Legged Willie, The Light Crust DoughBoys, "Ma" Ferguson, Bring ‘Em Back Alive Buck,  Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Ima Hogg.

Life in other states may not have promoted knowledge of what transpired when the Chilympiad barred women from competing or when the U.S. War Department shipped camels to Texas. The Texas movie poster

But you'll encounter frequent references to The Other 49.  One can't be faulted for being born elsewhere.  We gladly claim "naturalized" Texans who arrived later and notably achieved:  Walter Cronkite, Norah Jones, Emmitt Smith, golf guru Harvey Penick, Sandra Bullock, Dr. Phil....

Electric guitar pioneer Charlie Christian was a native, as were Roy Orbison, Van Cliburn, Ornette Coleman, and too many other influential artists to name.  Bandleader/Governor/Senator Pappy O'Daniel demonstrated (as have others since) that in Texas politics and entertainment are, if not indistinguishable, definitely intertwined.

TSHA affords juicy gossip:  Pennsylvania-born Anna Raguet inspired Sam Houston to (once he'd been elected President of the Republic) expedite the divorce suit against his first wife.  Ms. Raguet allegedly found the proceedings off-putting and married Houston's secretary of state instead.

As for adventure:  Rebecca Gilleland Fisher, captured by Comanches who killed her parents, was subsequently rescued.  She later became a charter member of the DAR and aided in saving the Alamo from destruction.   Medal of Honor recipient John Cary Morgan, whose achievement was fictionalized in the movie Twelve O'Clock High, didn't merely take over his B-17's controls when the pilot was shot; he had to fly with one hand and stave off the "crazed" pilot with the other.

And nowadays, as we contemplate a diminished Post Office presence, the loss of stagecoach mail and passenger service (March 1, 1861; the route was relocated north out of Texas) resonates, doesn't it?

John Steinbeck observed that, "Like most passionate nations, Texas has its own history based on, but not limited by, facts."   TSHA's trove of data in Handbook of Texas Online defies fiction to invent anything so colorful.

But it's still OK to speculate, as Tex Ritter did:  "They say that Virginia is the mother of Texas.  We never knew who the father was, but we kinda suspected Tennessee."

Here's your hat; what's your story?

Like all parents, I ponder the Generational Divide some days more than others.  And this week?  Well, it occurred to me that J.K. Rowling's great gift to humankind--the Sorting Hat--might represent the issue nicely.  If the hat assigned generational membership, it might still consider age, but it would also pose a question:  Which do you value more: representing yourself as a unique individual or deriving comfort from commonalities with others?

A solid member of the latter cohort, I've learned that special-ness comes at a price, as when the doctor, car repairer, roofer, or computer technician exclaims, "Wow, you almost never see that!"  

We prove every day that informational resources at the library can match the sudden need for material on a newly prescribed diet, relationship miscue, or DIY assignment.  And the most marvelous aspect of such guidance is the fact that it exists at all.  Its availability reinforces one's inclusion in good company.  Others have faced this situation, too!

But leave it to fiction to venture beyond mere answers, thus bridging across generations.  Novels invite interpretation colored by the reader's background.  Andre Dubus' engrossing House of Sand and Fog, for example, deals with home ownership but ultimately suggests more questions than answers with attendant emphases on prejudice and character.  Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Jane Green's Another Piece of My Heart, and Rebecca Coleman's Heaven Should Fall  are all "domestic fiction" but illustrate vividly disparate permutations of family crises.  They appeal to readers of both types, those intuiting personal connection and those intrigued by the possibilities.

Other novels explore plots thankfully far outside average experience for any age or outlook.  Debut author Kimberly McCreight's Reconstructing Amelia (available in April) and Kevin Powers' award-winning The Yellow Birds imagine, based on the authors' knowledge, darker scenarios involving school bullying, intrigue, and personal tragedy in the first instance and the Iraq war in the second.

Lynda Rutledge's book coverAuthor of Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale  Lynda Rutledge was on hand at the Round Rock New Neighbors book discussion group (they meet at the La Frontera Barnes & Noble) earlier this week.  Her story visits five generations of a prominent small-town Texas family, none of which communicate adequately with the others or relate in the same fashion to the valuable possessions accumulating in the family mansion.  Acknowledging one plot angle particularly enjoyed by the group, Ms. Rutledge confessed her delight in having furnished readers information that even the characters didn't know.

Now that's an approach with universal appeal, further demonstrating fiction's powers of inclusion.

And in that vein I have to share a curious facet about another well-received novel from the past year, Ben Fountain's National Book Critics Circle winner Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.   Checking its availability at RRPL, I spied in its record  a subject heading I don't recall encountering previously:  "Football & War".  Generational membership aside, to appreciate its aptness you just might need to be a Texan.

Oh, don't be so modest (just be accurate)

The customer isn't always right.  On those rare occasions, it's fortunate if someone else has already said so. 

That's what happened with the recent job hunter who slid his resume across the reference desk, sighed, and related his situation.  After applying three times to an area employer with zero response, he was finally (and constructively) informed by an HR staffer: "You will never get hired with that resume."

Strong words, I thought, curious to see what could be so off-putting.  Answer: everythingInconsistent spacing and bulleting, clashing fonts, and grammatical errors immediately lowered the reader's opinion of the applicant--but at least they distracted from the content.

Chunks of text appeared to have been excerpted randomly from an in-house training manual.  Descriptions of positions and responsibilities failed to cohere or to register a logical career progression.  Instead of crisply proclaiming, "Here's how my experience and capabilities can benefit your company!" this resume shrugged, "Here's two pages of stuff..."Making the selection

No one would match that document with the well-spoken, promising candidate at the desk; I agreed that the resume misrepresented him.  Satisfied with the consensus of the Complete Rewrite camp, the patron cheerfully agreed, "I'm totally on board."  Then he added, "It just needs to be quick."

Uh-oh.  A competitive, from-scratch resume isn't a reference question; it's project--a serious one with a potentially life-changing payoff. 

It's not the writing that's labor-intensive; it's the conceptualizing:  selecting the words to prove that you're the choice among potentially hundreds; finding phrases to convey both hard experience and openness to learning opportunities.  Sometime you also need to compensate for gaps resulting from relocating for your spouse's job, caring for family, the economy. 

Hiring a resume expert is one solution, but where's the challenge (and savings) there?  Using library resources, you could promote yourself better than anyone else can.

I showed the customer our array of resume guides; one even featured makeovers.  ResumeMaker online could enable him to produce a professional-looking document, as would Job & Career Accelerator.  And a colleague and I both quickly scanned his pages to share our first impressions.  (I've read that first perusals commonly last ten seconds or less before submitted resumes are designated "discard" or "consider".)

You're wise to keep abreast of current resume style trends, too: 

  • Strive for 1-2 pages in length (more realistic than the strict one-page model).
  • Jettison the "References on request" line; that's a given.
  • Envision your resume as a portal: provide links to your online publications, web page, LinkedIn (then keep these features updated).
  • Consider featuring an accolade from a supervisor, client, etc. (quotation similar to blurbs on a book jacket).
  • Drop the Objective statement, which can appear old-fashioned or limiting. Instead, compose a "headline" to snag readers' attention.
  • Customize each resume to echo when possible the same keywords used in that job posting. The initial reader may be a scanning program, not a human.

As always, rely on your knowledge of each employer to determine how edgy your style for that document should be.  If possible, use multiple proofreaders to catch those little missteps before submitting your finished product; unless you're entering a bake-off, no one wants to read that you're a "roll model".

The quality of mercy

Not an ardent reader of Science Fiction, I approach it like a child lectured that eating vegetables is a Good Thing and should be undertaken frequently: I'm always glad afterward but rarely pursue the experience.

Predictably, when an advance copy of Ariel Djanikian's The Office of Mercy arrived among some historical fiction, chick-lit, and literary titles, I picked up everything else first.  But then my Sci-Fi Deficiency instinct kicked in, and I scanned the cover more closely.  Sold! 

It was the creepy eye that fascinated me.  Strategically set in the foreground and encased in metal, it regarded me with a glazed, shattered look from an incongruous forest glade lit from above with eerie green shafts: definitely an Orwellian vibe.   

Office of Mercy graphicThen, imagine my chagrin when, post-reading, I realized that the eyeball is a helmet with a shattered lens.  For me, the lexicon of cover art graphics would suggest that helmet=classic sci-fi; eyeball=psychological or dystopian fiction.  So let's call my error prescient; The Office of Mercy actually is dystopian.  That's great news for Hunger Games fans. 

Through the eyes of 24-year-old Natasha Wiley, readers absorb the sophistication and logic of life in America-Five, one of several domed communities dotting the map in the post-Storm world.  As with the best of dystopian lit, the tone compels one to begin questioning the leaders' self-proclamation of utopian existence even before evidence to the contrary materializes.  I enjoyed reading that, despite lofty posturings of ethical intent and carefully honed priorities, teams from the various Americas continually compete for population and "sweep" statistics.  Some things never change. 

America-Five's most solid claim to superiority:  it has a library.   While other communities were buttressing their structures and gathering seed, livestock, and scientific supplies in advance of the Storm, only America-Five's directors had the vision to stockpile information:  books, digitized data, paper records.   Eventually (this will not surprise librarians, educators, and city officials everywhere) the realization dawned that manuals for moral instruction and simulators for entertainment and schooling just weren't enough. 

Citizens craved more:  access to information "beyond what the individual memory could retain".

In the sleek, gadgety community--vertically stacked grain cultivation, labs stocked with genetically tailored replacement parts, textiles that regenerate when torn--the library boasts a couple of low-tech but much appreciated features:  comfy plush chairs and soundproof conference rooms. 

Hmmmm.  We're frequently lobbied to acquire those things now.  Some things never change.

I selfishly wish that Ms. Djanikian would pen another story (The Office of Mercy is on our March order list), this time starring the library.  Our staff could propose innovations to maximize its appeal: 

  • Keyboards and workstations that self-sanitize after each logout
  • Study rooms that morph to accommodate 2 to 20 people without changing the footprint of the space
  • Window blinds that allow all the natural light into the building despite being closed by the single reader sitting in front
  • Even more plush chairs and soundproof rooms

    Not that we deserve creativity points; we've just been listening to our customers.
Some like it hot

Yes, I'm overthinking this.  Chances are that if a city official or Michelle, our library director (or anyone else) happened by the reference desk when I said that, they wouldn't consider it strange or inappropriate. 

I'm still going to disregard that professional advice.  But the Library Journal article was quite useful otherwise. Acknowledging the massive popular response to trilogies by E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Sylvia Day (Crossfire series), the author surveyed the history of "hot romance" and "erotic romance" books, offering suggestions for further reading, strategies to determine what readers want, how to find credible review sources, etc.

Observing that everyone has preferred styles or emphases and that some readers always choose the sexier stories, the author advised: "My favorite way of determining this criterion is by asking, ‘How hot do you like it ?' "

Well, that question immediately flunked my Something I Would Ever Say at the Reference Desk test.  But the point is certainly valid.  Maybe I could propose a theoretical 1-10 scale where 1 is something you'd read aloud to your grandmother, and so forth.Clown teapot

Not that any amount of care would guarantee 100% professional behavior on my part.  Recently, helping a customer who needed a cache of funny one-liners for a performance project, I ended up laughing along with her--a lot, and too loudly. Poor role modeling for the Quiet Floor, but those bits were first-quality comedy. Humor truly does affect us like a tonic.

Just thinking about that episode puts me in such fine spirits that I've thought of two ways to share the happiness:

First, for E.L. James fans, here are suggestions for other authors whom you may enjoy and whose books are available at the library (thanks to Sylvia Day's expertise for this information):  Lora Leigh, Lauren Dane, Shayla Black, Jaci Burton, Shannon McKenna, Emma Holly, Maya Banks.

Second, I'll remind humor fans that you can pinpoint some wonderful reads just by typing "parody" or "parodies" or "satire" in the Catalog Quick Search box on the library's home page.  Your finds will run the gamut from classic to edgy:

  • The Complete Stories of Dorothy Parker (audiobook)
  • Spoofs! (Sesame Street, DVD)
  •  Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (DVD)
  • Goodnight iPad 
  • The Da Vinci Cod by Don Brine or The Dick Cheney Code by Henry Beard
  • Comedian Chris Elliott's The Shroud of the Thwacker
  • The Girl with the Golden Bouffant (from the Jane Bond series by Mabel Maney)
  • Don't Mess with Travis by Bob Smiley
  • Snobs by Julian Fellowes
  • Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of the Planet Earth
  • The Politics of Barbecue by Blake Fontenay

And let's not forget The Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin.