Reader's Exchange

August 2014 - Posts

Travel essentials: cheese, diamonds, someone to watch your back

At the Reference Desk, fear of disappointing our customers should we not possess (or can't for some reason retrieve) the information they seek is ever present.  But last Friday a library patron was let down when I did know something. 

Appreciating the wonderfully illustrated article received via email, the customer printed an extra copy for me.  One glance at the image of sun rays glinting off jeweled fragments strewn on the beach prompted me to exclaim, "Ooooh, sea glass!"  The existence of wave-worn discards beautified over the years was meant to be the revelation--but I'd read about it in Anita Shreve's novel concerning a young married couple titled (you guessed it) Sea Glass

That setting was on the East Coast, so I hastened to own my ignorance of Glass Beach in MacKerricher State Park, information which is valuable since (a) any fact in a librarian's repertoire can be handily applied at some point and (b) next time I'm in California, I want to go there.

Set in the 1920s, Sea Glass is classified "historical fiction", the genre to which I would devote 100% of my reading if book group, reviewing, and collection development responsibilities didn't (beneficially) intervene.  Not only does historical background supply plots of the sort that "truth is stranger than", period settings enable the reader to effortlessly assimilate flavor and relevance of times past.  This is a multitasking genre, enlightening as it entertains. 

From Amy Brill's The Movement of Stars, based on Maria Mitchell, America's first professional female astronomer, I learned about the King of Denmark's medal--Frederick VI's prize to the claimant of the first discovery of a new telescopic comet.  Paul Robertson's An Elegant Solution, inspired by a notable family of 18th-century mathematicians, considers the prestige of academic chairs within Basel's university community--positions so esteemed as to instigate Machiavellian strategies to attain them.  In The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara depicts the insidious downward career spiral of a Nobel Prize winner whose character was loosely modeled after an actual Nobel Laureate.Comet trails

Visiting Asheville, North Carolina, recently, I was startled into recalling another based-on-fact fictional gem (Lee Smith's Guests on Earth) as the "historical trolley tour" driver's practiced spiel referenced Highland Hospital, scene of Zelda Fitzgerald's death in a fire.

My latest read (848 pages, one weekend) unabashedly overlays historical fiction with time travels and fantasy.  Eighth in Diana Gabaldon's addictive Outlander series, Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Gabaldon calls it MOBY) furthers the century-hopping saga of Claire and Jamie Fraser--devoted, great-looking, and endlessly adaptable--along with their expanding, marvelously diverse extended family.  I never tire of Claire's resourcefulness in reconciling 20th-century knowledge with present circumstances (in the 1700s, she applies a Roquefort cheese mixture to her own serious wound, thereby administering penicillin).

Not usually fond of fantasy novels, I am captivated by Gabaldon's (I'm oversimplifying) formula: circled standing stones + faceted gems = time travel--for predisposed individuals.  Watching my little Scottish terrier obsessively inspect the cluster of boulders adorning our backyard, I note her utilitarian ID collar: no sparkles, no rhinestones whatsoever--which is fortunate. The Frasers have enough worries already. 

How to be a novel employee

We're sometimes asked whether folks who apply for City of Round Rock jobs are required to live here.  No--and that's a good thing.  Employees who reside elsewhere can share insights from those municipalities experienced from the customer point of view.  As one of the resident CORR employees who, in a way, work for ourselves-paying City taxes that fund our salaries--I can report that we already have a varied perspective. 

As a librarian, I would love to order every promising new book in all available formats--print, large print, audio CD, Playaway, ebook, digital audio, but the taxpayer in me vetoes the approach as budgetary folly (also, we're out of shelving space).  And that nifty art database that my librarian persona would so enjoy?  Not a cost-effective acquisition for a limited audience, says Taxpayer Me.  

So the two of us especially appreciate endeavors like the Farm to Work program: City employees can purchase baskets of organic produce delivered to a convenient pick-up location each week.  We pay a reasonable charge and enjoy having an instant selection of
in-season fruits and vegetables.   Employee Me appreciates the freshness and one-stop shopping; Taxpayer Me applauds the notion that we City staffers will eat better, enhance our well-being, and trim health care costs. Organic produce

As employer review websites like Glassdoor, Indeed,  Jobitorial, and CareerBliss demonstrate, not all workplace initiatives anywhere merit in-house approval.   Readers may, however, find it difficult to commiserate when a reviewer's biggest complaint is his/her company's failure to furnish all-day free snacks and meals, spa treatments, or pet-sitting, as some firms do.  If CORR were to offer staff free lunches and breakfasts every day, I'd be torn-tempted to queue up for some of it, while my taxpayer persona took notes for a what-are-you-thinking  letter to the City Manager.

Management tends to attract the most reviewer ire, a trend entertainingly mirrored in fiction successes of recent years:  Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End, Richard Russo's Empire Falls, Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada, and Kathryn Stockett's The Help, and so many others.

Leslie T. Chang observes in her article "Working Titles" in The New Yorker , "the  Chinese, some of the hardest-working people on the planet" demonstrate a distinct spare-time reading preference for novels about the workplace.

As for the American fiction market, one forthcoming standout is actually a translation: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.   Tsukuru finds that achievement of a career doing what he has always dreamed of-designing train stations-does not guarantee happiness and fulfillment.   

In Simon Wroe's debut, Chop Chop, the boss, a "culinary dictator", is the centerpiece of the narrative Publisher's Weekly recommends for "anyone with a taste for the morbid and whimsical".   The Intern's Handbook by Shane Kuhn stars a hit man disguised as a company intern. 

In A Highly Unlikely Scenario or, A Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World, Rachel Cantor imagines a future ruled by fast-food conglomerates.  Only a few brave souls can prevent them from completing the ruin of civilization. 

One of them is a librarian.  Her workplace probably advocates organic produce, too.