Reader's Exchange

May 2013 - Posts

Butch Cassidy and the Goblet of Fire

People are so quick to draw conclusions.  So what if The Sting, The Natural, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid top my "10 Best Films List"?   I also love Quiz Show and Ordinary People, for which Robert Redford was behind the camera. So there.

It's about film quality, really. 

That, and obviously my regard for social history as represented in cinema.  One can learn quite a lot about the almost-mythic significance of baseball by viewing The Natural This selection also boasts a nice literary pedigree, inspiration by the Bernard Malamud short story of the same title.

However, as the host of last night's television screening reminded us, that back story has its own inspiration, an actual and early instance of celebrity stalking.

The near-fatal shooting of a popular Philadelphia Phillies first baseman by an obsessed teenage fan in 1949 was the basis for Malamud's story, published in 1952.  The movie title actually references the nickname "The Natural" given to Eddie Waitkus (the stalker's target) during his rookie year.

I've always enjoyed Barbara Hershey's vampy portrayal of stylish, gun-toting Harriet, but since I've known the background's background I see the character working better as a nod to history than as a total invention.

The new film What Maisie Knew, starring Julianne Moore, is also based on short fiction--the Henry James story of the same name.  

Lightning striking treeCall them tributes, adaptions, remakes or whatever, stories offering the extra dimension of literary or historical precedent intrigue us.  Among scores of fictional scenarios inspired by well-loved themes, some--David Maine's The Preservationist (Noah and the ark), Erezebet Yellowboy's Sleeping Helena (Sleeping Beauty), Anne Fortier's Juliet--invite instant recognition.  Neil Gaiman's American Gods , Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, and Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians(for young readers) also come to mind.

Others, like Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child (a Russian fairy tale) and Jo Walton's Among Others (autobiographical elements, sci-fi fandom) offer the enrichment of prior influences and the challenge of identifying them.

Jessica Anya Blau's forthcoming The Wonder Bread Summer gives a nod to Alice in Wonderland--but be aware that Blau's darkly humorous, edgy take was judged by Kirkus Reviews as "meant to be Alice in Wonderland by way of Boogie Nights"; target your reading audience accordingly.   Sean Pidgeon's Finding Camlann (2013) blends Arthurian legend and a thrilling archaeological discovery for mystery and literary fiction enthusiasts.  Rebecca Kanner's Sinners and the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah's Wife (2013) offers the viewpoint about which we've long been curious.

You can easily discover more fictional treatments of your favorite historical figures, literary landmarks, or noteworthy events.  Try searching the library catalog with keywords "fiction" and "Shakespeare" (or "Bible" or "mythology" or "Butch Cassidy", etc.)  You can pinpoint fiction borrowing a specific real personality by searching "fiction" and (for example) "Dorothy Parker". 

That strategy doesn't work so well with prolific authors like Henry James, but you can always search the author's name as subject, then browse to "fiction". 

I'm mining the catalog right now.  Guess whose name I just looked up?

Go ahead, make...

Forget Rumpelstiltskin's debtor spinning straw into gold and Cinderella's fairy godmother devising a coach from a pumpkin.   This project demanded creativity. 

Michelle, our library director, requested that fellow reference librarian Chris and I design a giveaway flyer for the library's booth at the June 8 Mini Maker Faire The brochure's mission:  "information for the Maker community about the resources available."

So many resources; so few quick explanations of "Maker community". 

Which assessment of "Maker" do you credit, and then how do you encapsulate what we can offer all those who qualify? Definitions of "maker" consider location (hackerspace/studio/workshop/lab), tools (hardware/software/traditional tools/collaborative knowledge), purpose (to invent/tinker/innovate/envision), and end result (technological innovation/ consumer products/crafts/acquired techniques and strategies).

Robot clocks"Making" happens in DIY mode but also DIWO (Do It with Others) style and encourages learning by playing and experimentation.  Jeff Sturges, associated with a Detroit makerspace, sees the Maker movement as "creating creative people". 

Though digital and technical projects (3-D printers currently the trendiest) dominate Maker news, the scientific component represents only one facet.   Jewelry makers, woodworkers, fiber artists, urban winemakers are all Makers, along with those dabbling in robotics and custom electronic gadgetry with ArduinoRaspberry Pi, and the like.  San Francisco's recent SF Made Week campaign exemplifies the spectrum of participants and interests.  

Austin Public Library's Recycled Reads store demonstrates Maker activity, combining recycling and "upcycling". Recycled Reads now attracts crafters who show up not just to admire and purchase store offerings but also to create.  Round Rock Public Library has fostered Maker activity for years, a recent example being the Knit & Crochet meetup.

Round Rock Arts Council's clever take on making/upcycling--the Have a Ball contest-- invites everyone to produce imaginative creations using baseballs to be displayed, then auctioned. Proceeds benefit RRAC, thus demonstrating that currency, too, can be upcycled.  

Generating ideas for an adequate handout, we shifted into Maker mode ourselves.   Chris envisioned a "credit card thin" digital surface with integrated personal minder "(Your e-book checkout is about to expire...") and a Siri-like inquiry option.  I imagined a handheld trifold multimedia screen with continually updated carousel displays and a sensor that records eye movement in order to assess which displays the holder focused on most in order to prioritize featured topics.  

But we've downsized our dreams back to paper format, the mode which our department can afford and which, incidentally, already exists.   Collection Development Manager Theresa is purchasing for the library a subscription to Make magazine.   We've ordered more books on Arduino to supplement the hundreds of books and resources on various aspects of making and upcycling already here.    

For fiction readers, I recommend Cory Doctorow's Makers, (according to Publishers Weekly, a "tour de force" and "one of the most brilliant reimaginings of the near future since cyberpunk wore out its mirror shades.") It's currently checked out to me.

But, since I have so many ideas for weekend projects, I'm returning it this afternoon.  Look to your Maker laurels, CFG!

Support your local EM


You could practically hear last week's topic hitting a nerve, one in-house English major at a time.  After I inquired which staffers claimed English as an academic concentration, "No" replies landed in my inbox; "Yes" folks responded in person.   They needed to vent. 

En route to other missions, fellow EMs veered over to the reference desk, confiding their pet peeves: mispronunciations, improper usage, acceptance of "impact" as a verb.  One colleague confessed to embarrassment when he'd been asked to share which book he was currently reading--zombie fiction.

"Good for you!" I responded.  English majors should embrace popular favorites.   We reference this noble motive as we virtuously indulge in frothy romances, serial mysteries, and supercharged thrillers along with literary fiction.  Despite our contentions that Middlemarch and Silas Marner are page-turners, we're fun people.

Because no one deserves a curmudgeonly co-worker, we save our venting about subject-verb agreement, comma splices, and the like for other EMs.  If, however, a patron appears likely to submit that cover letter with errors beyond Spell-check's powers of recognition, we intervene.  That's different.

Here's a verbal glitch you've surely heard: the assumption that nominative pronouns (e.g., "he and I") are always preferable to objective pronouns ("him and me").  Actually, when the element  in question follows a preposition ("Oh, she's downstairs, waiting FOR _____ .") the objective "him and me" is the proper choice. 

Oh, I see what happened just now.  When "pronoun", "objective", "preposition", etc. registered, your brain cells commenced to fold their figurative tents and (say it with me, English majors!) "silently steal away" to any other topic. 

Apostrophe errorMore creative grammar grouches have packaged elucidation into hilarious but useful lessons.   Based on the Facebook page, Sharon Eliza Nichol's I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar furnishes amusement for all (and balm for EMs) with photographs chronicling missteps:  grocery store sign hawking "personnel watermelons", zoo announcement for a "birds of pray" exhibit.

Columnist June Casagrande's Mortal Syntax and Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies deliver expertise with attitude.  William Safire's How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar entertainingly considers which grammar edicts may be disregarded (and when) with memorable chapter titles:  Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read; Never, ever use repetitive redundancies; De-accession euphemisms.

Venturing beyond mere grammar, engrossing treatments of language history and evolution include Ralph Keyes' I Love It When You Talk Retro:  Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech and Don Watson's Death Sentences: How Clich├ęs, Weasel Words, and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language.

In deference to Mr. Watson's condemnation of trends in rhetoric (a view with which I agree), I should probably not suggest that, at this point in time, you elect to engage in a book-perusal event in order to qualitatively diversify your knowledge base with regard to jargon symptomatic of messaging entities...

Not that you asked...

Not everyone who works in the library is a librarian (technically, that's only the folks with MLS or MLIS degrees).  And among the librarians, library assistants, and library associates in the building, a smaller percentage than you might think were English majors.

Fortunately.  Every day, questions prove our wide-ranging accumulation of life experience, education, and prior employment to be useful.

Ideally, an English major would show you how to achieve parallel structure in your resume or advise which poem to select for a child who hates poetry but has to memorize some.  In a perfect world, your assignment on workplace motivation would match you with a business or psychology major. 

Nice, but not necessary.  We learn from one another and remember who-knows-what for purposes of consultation. 

Conversations in the break room or during pre-opening sometimes involve literary or academic topics as you'd expect.  But we also consider, well, practically anything.   Following up on our own questions (some recent ones below), we discover or re-discover excellent resources for customer inquiries: 

The origin of chicken-fried steak
As in, "Are you sure that's a Texas dish?  I thought it was Midwestern."  Evidence suggests a high probability that CFS is Texan and an even stronger likelihood that it's at least Southern.  Handbook of Texas Online acknowledges possible forebears of CFS (wiener schnitzel, really?), along with three regional Texas permutations (also, the most common mistakes in preparation).  Threadgill's: The Cookbook reveals the restaurant's wet-dry-wet "secret" method.  Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook devotes an entire chapter ("Chicken-Fried Steak in Paradise") that you shouldn't miss, especially the Chicken Fried Steak Belt Theory. 

Aggie bluebonnetsHow can they be bluebonnets if they aren't blue?
Sometimes described as "reddish" or "burgundy", a recent variety can be found at, among other places, Round Rock Gardens.  For anyone enchanted by the intense hue inspiring our state flower's name, this tint is a bit of a jolt.  Aggie Horticulture explains that we've always had variations of this flower, a fact which complicated legislation on its behalf.   The "Texas Maroon" bluebonnet boasts its very own chronicle.  

Biggest/best Presidential library?
The new George W. Bush Library's homepage claims 70 million pages of textual materials, with supplemental records (e.g., condolence mail received by the State Department following the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks).   According to the National Archives and Records Administration, the Clinton Presidential Library, with over 76,000 textual pages and additional holdings, offers the most resources.   The George W. Bush Library, according to NBC News, occupies the largest space:  226,500 cubic feet.

As for "best":  If you're an architecture fan, you'll appreciate Jacqueline Kennedy's choice of I.M. Pei to design the JFK Library--unless you're more impressed by FDR's own sketch having suggested the look for his library.  And so forth...

What happened to (the good) Cracker Jack Prizes?  I can't answer that one.  But you can revisit the glory days of in-the-box premiums at the Cracker Jack Collectors Association website or by reading articles like "Cracker Jack Collectibles" featuring CJ collector Jim Davis (Antiques & Collecting Magazine, Jan. 2005, p. 28-32) via the library's Masterfile online resource.