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.
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.
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.
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.
Right now, our new library building exists in that ideal theoretical dimension in which all things are possible and nobody's dreamed-of architectural vision clashes with anyone else's (or with functionality, for that matter). Once the project takes shape in more concrete ways, decisions will be informed by studies and observations of customer usage in the current facility and, of course, the additional needs and wants our patrons have mentioned.
Personally, I'd love to see a single-story plan.
With only one floor, we'd have no stairs or stairwells. Staffers are acclimated to the long flight of steps, navigating them multiple times daily, but customers tend to remark about the experience--after they catch their breath. And cell phone users must not have noticed how sound funnels upward all around the stairwell, amplifying very personal conversations for the benefit of second floor. Especially at the Reference Desk, we are treated to information best left un-broadcast.
Come to think of it, if I took notes, I'd never run short of material for National Novel Writing Month.
But comments from below can be delightful. Take last Wednesday morning: a first-floor mom, hoping to expedite the morning's agenda, focused her child's attention on selecting children's books to take home. But apparently the son or daughter had spied those stairs and inquired about possibilities overhead.
"Oh, it's just boring stuff up there", Mom explained, "Grownup stuff."
Mom anticipated the child's point of view; she doesn't really believe that a floor stocked with dozens of computers, live-person customer service, and thousands of books and magazines is boring. But if you're among those parents who lovingly devote their entire library visit to the kids' section, how would you even know?
The grownup floor is quieter (well, usually) but hardly a snooze-fest. Adults ask fewer questions, but those run the gamut of challenges faced by this demographic: writing research papers for distance learning courses, questioning which credit reporting sites to trust, crafting and updating resumes, and so forth. (Speaking of grownup issues, did you know that with the library's Law Depot online resource you can compose and print a basic will in about 15 minutes? Three of us here at RRPL have successfully done this recently. FYI: my bank's notary wasn't allowed to certify wills, but the UPS Store provides this service at a low cost.)
We've even heard adults clapping their hands and otherwise expressing childlike glee when they hear about upcoming releases of books by favorite authors. These titles are some I predict will be particularly well-received--as soon as we can get our hands on them:
Colleen McCullough's Bittersweet ("epic romance": remember The Thorn Birds? 8/19)
Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage (8/12)
Debut author Jessie Burton's historical fiction (17th century Amsterdam) The Miniaturist (8/26)
Quirk Books' latest: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix (9/23)
Quirk Books products have circulated well at RRPL, and Library Journal gave Horrorstor a good review, but I admit that this one had me at the cover.
Remember when "binge" was a word we didn't take lightly?
Formerly, it applied to individuals straying into saloons or meeting with bad company and succumbing to more beverages than originally intended. Despite advice from embroidered samplers or wise elders, Moderation In All Things proved impossible just then. Such incidents were also called "sprees" (crime sprees were likewise deplorable--unlike shopping sprees, which are somehow cute. But I digress.)
While admitting the dangers of bingeing with drink or food, we recognize how perfectly that word encapsulates excess. So we borrow it for blithely self-confessed (thus excusable) overindulgences of all sorts. At Book Expo America this year, "binge-reading potential" was applied as a compliment for any author whose latest book keeps readers turning the pages well into the night or whose series tempt fans to consume one book after the other, like bon-bons.
The phrase would be music to authors' ears; for readers, it places us in good company. At my house, the sampler would read "Moderation Except Books, Chocolate, and Guacamole." But I don't embroider--I read. And lately my husband and I have also binge-watched House of Cards, thanks to the library's Season One DVD collection. The only reason we haven't zoomed through Season Two in a shockingly brief time span is that we're too frugal to buy the set and are waiting to borrow the library's copy.
Happily, delayed gratification isn't an issue with two forthcoming novels: Jane Smiley's Some Luck and Deborah Harkness' trilogy-concluding The Book of Life. Both copies accompanied me home from Book Expo.
Those of us fortunate to receive Harkness' book were asked not to comment on the story until July 15, so I won't (just know that you will not be disappointed.)
But here is the irresistible premise of Some Luck: First of The Last Hundred Years trilogy, the story spans 1920 to 1953, each chapter depicting one year in the life of the Langdons, an Iowa farm family. The trilogy will end with 2020: 100 years, 100 chapters. Incisively viewing social history as the Langdon's five children experience it, the story also brilliantly conveys family dynamics: parental preferences and expectations, implications of birth order, etc. Smiley's gift for interweaving both telling private moments and large-scale events produces an immersive reading experience.
And that's the problem-at least for me. Deeply engaged with the characters in Some Luck, I devoured it, staying up late one night and (thank goodness for weekends) resuming reading the next day, finishing before lunch. I wasn't prepared to part with the Langdons yet, but I couldn't restrain myself from following their fortunes as far as I could as soon as I could.
And now, the interval before the second book will be even longer because this was an advance reading copy.
What do we learn from my example? Probably nothing: I defy you to pace yourself sedately when you get your hands on Some Luck (which may happen for you sooner than the October publication; we'll be offering the autographed ARC as a drawing prize on Facebook sometime in the next couple of weeks).
We understand why library customers ask us The Question (how we
feel about “libraries going away now that we have ebooks and the
Earlier this week, one such inquirer stacked her pile of library books
on the Reference desk while she entered the drawing for this week’s Reader’s
Bonanza tote bag prize--these actions at least partially demonstrating why
ebooks don’t signal our demise.
This lady reads ebooks, too (thank you, Overdrive at RRPL!)
and probably enjoys the amazing convenience of the internet, as do library
staffers and many patrons. But the internet doesn’t answer all your
questions—the reason this valued customer came to the Reference desk.
And let’s not forget that library resources save their users a significant
amount of money.
Digital books and the internet aren’t library replacements—they
represent additional avenues of access for libraries to facilitate—along with
print, still preferred by an impressive percentage of readers. As
publishing options diversify and technology advances, everyone is
guessing how market shares and format preferences will evolve. The
only sure bet—my opinion--is that consumers aren’t thinking “instead of”; they
Librarians are not just OK with publishing upheaval, we tend to be
energized by it, perhaps more comfortable with the changes than our customers
are. When one works at a desk where anyone can approach at any time with
all sorts of questions, one learns to respond with “Hmmmm, let’s see…” rather
than “Oh, no!”
Other reasons for optimism:
The audio age: Audiobooks are
burgeoning in popularity. Library Journal reports a
confluence of factors-- longer commuting times, expanding variety, diversity in
audio formats, convenience of mobile devices—driving the current audio boom.
Audio Publishers Association observes that, “while other areas of the
publishing industry are shrinking, audiobooks are its fastest growing segment”
with, according to APA president Michelle Cobb, “an astonishing 83 percent
increase in audiobook titles produced just from 2011 to 2012”. Yesterday,
a customer who’s an audio enthusiast and I were dropping names of career audiobook
readers, some of whose reputations rival those of film stars. And you’d
be surprised how many celebrity actors (e.g., Bryan Cranston) also work as
Giveaway alert (especially if a road trip is in your future): The
library’s adult services department will offer a dozen unabridged CD audiobooks
as Facebook drawings and in-house “pop-up prizes” in the coming week.
The “buzz” factor: Physical books retain their
power to incite passion, acquisitiveness, and delight. Stephen
Colbert’s advocacy for Edan Lepucki’s forthcoming California will do
wonders for a debut author’s career—but Colbert also has a point to prove about
vendor responsibility toward customers.
At trade conferences like ALA and BEA, limited quantities of
pre-publication giveaway copies are scouted, coveted, and grabbed with alacrity
when the stacks materialize on the floor, signaling availability. Last month at Book Expo, I thought I’d missed
getting the ARC of Deborah Harkness’ The Book of Life, third in her
trilogy. Assuming this to be my due for
having once claimed I didn’t read vampire novels, I had resigned myself when a
colleague alerted me to the still-open autograph line and the last few copies,
after which I gleefully hugged the longed-for volume to my chest.
I hope no one saw that.
the weather like?” That’s the first question co-workers asked about New
York last week (I attended Book Expo America). Answer: “I wore my coat
the forecast for weeklong 70s, I packed light outerwear that made brisk walking
in that unexpectedly cool, windy spell a pleasure--not that I was merely
traipsing from Point A to Point B. Most of the time I hauled armloads of
books back to the hotel to stash in my luggage. Those
treasures and a 45-pound box of publisher giveaways and advance reader copies
shipped from BEA will furnish prizes for
grownup library customers during the "Mad About Reading" summer reading campaign. Check our Facebook
page and library homepage for details next week.
summer, when we held weekly drawings for literary goodies and hosted spontaneous
“Pop-Up Prize” giveaways at the reference desk, we relished seeing customers’
expressions change from puzzled to thrilled as we confirmed: “Take it--it's yours!”
to mind another rewarding variety of takeaway—candid gems from authors whose
work we cherish.
Journal-sponsored Day of Dialog in the McGraw-Hill building (50th
floor, nice view of the Empire State Building) featured practical discussions:
collection development, formats in transition, etc. But DoD is most known
for stellar assemblages of authors and publishers, all passionate about their
upcoming releases, their enthusiasm contagious. During
presentations--editors’ picks, cookbook trends, women fiction writers, key
contemporary authors—noted panelists offered up choice commentary:
Scottoline’s zingers broke up the room at frequent intervals. She
shared a favorite compliment, bestowed by a gentleman who claimed that he never
bought books authored by women: “You write like a man”.
who loves to visit libraries and has done so countless times, confessed, “I’m a
food writer/restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton, asked what inspired her 1000
Things to Eat Before You Die, smiled, “Well, what motivated me was making a
great deal of money.”
Schrager, author of Fried and True (an entire cookbook about fried
chicken) corrected the notion that this delicacy is of American, specifically Southern,
origin. The true birthplace of FC: Scotland.
the panel’s observation that “women’s fiction” is a label while “men’s fiction”
is not, Sophie Littlefield suggested this alternative: “Fiction
You Will Like”.
James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, recounted
anecdotes from his university teaching experience and admitted to a fascination
with the 1970s: “I just wanted to put my characters in polyester.”
Cain, her injured leg cushioned and propped atop a chair, garnered a roomful of
guffaws by announcing the title of her new thriller: One Kick.
which women authors deserved bigger audiences, the “Women Writing Fiction”
panel recommended these up-and-coming talents:
and Stephanie Perkins. The library has books by everyone on this list.
a memorable revelation not from Day of Dialog but overheard at Javits Center in the massive queue
awaiting an autograph and a moment with Cary Elwes of Princess Bride fame: “I missed a friend’s
wedding for this!”
In the run-up to Book Expo America next week, I'm doing my exhibitor homework: assessing which autographed publications and advance reader copies would most interest Round Rock readers.
Paula Daly, I note, has Keep Your Friends Close due out in September. Her suspenseful fiction debut, Just What Kind of Mother are You? has checked out briskly since we acquired it last fall.
That ARC created an awkward scenario, now comical in retrospect. The co-worker whom I elected Reader #2--after me-- was away at an outreach appearance. Rather than wait until our schedules coincided to hand off the copy in person, I propped it on the door frame, visible to anyone passing by.
Now imagine that you arrive at your workstation to spot an offering prominently emblazoned Just What Kind of Mother...?
Fortunately, this colleague (a) has a generous sense of humor and (b) is patently not a candidate for any degree of parenting criticism.
Not only do Daly's titles demand our attention, they also mimic popular nonfiction themes. We tend to deflect acquaintances' uninvited advice, but hints and tips packaged in snazzy covers by people unknown to us are practically irresistible.
Michael Korda's Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999 (recommended by the RRNN/Barnes & Noble book group) documents both fiction and nonfiction, but Americans' affinity for life-improvement strategies is clear. And purchasing trends in nonfiction mirror evolving society:
Choices scholarly by comparison to today: lots of memoir, history, poetry, biography. Yet Better Meals for Less Money and How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day reflect modern sensibilities.
Notables include The Art of Thinking; Etiquette by Emily Post; Economic Consequences of the Peace by John M. Keynes.
More of what we now term "self-help" emerging: Live Alone and Like It and Orchids on Your Budget by Marjorie Hillis; You Must Relax by Edmund Jacobson; How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
Post-war, it's no surprise that How to Stop Worrying and Start Living resonated in 1948; in 1949, two of ten bestsellers were about canasta.
The desire for high-quality everyday living inspires several from Betty Crocker and Better Homes & Gardens; Look Younger, Live Longer by Gayelord Hauer; How to Live 365 Days a Year by John A. Schindler.
1960s and 1970s:
Cookbooks now focus specifically: dessert, salad, casseroles, bread, chicken. And then: Sex and the Single Girl, The Joy of Sex, The Hite Report, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, but Were Afraid to Ask. Erma Bombeck (The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank) scores multiple chart toppers.
1980s and 1990s:
These speak for themselves: Richard Simmons; Beverly Hills Diet; Bill Cosby; Robert Fulghum; "Your Inner Child"; Rush Limbaugh, "Juicing", Men Are From Mars, Who Moved My Cheese.
Finally, a few recent titles I've spotted that might, if left at your door, prompt examination of your co-workers' motives:
If I Were You
Now Look What You've Done
Decisive: How to Make Better Choices
Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You, and
Wear No Evil.
On those first Tuesdays when the library opens an hour later for all-staff meeting, we're almost never discussing what you'd think.
Literary chat would be fun, but other priorities rule the agenda. Administering an information/access/community center--the modern library model--demands customer service updates, new resource training, community awareness presentations.
This week's confab was special, marking our official transition into SRP Mode, best described as a state of high alert with moments of mild panic.
Michelle, our director, likens library summer reading programs to the retail world's Christmas--a potentially game-changing season fraught with conventional expectations and opportunities to innovate. New customers are attracted by SRPs, while current users anticipate another rewarding experience.
Hence, the flurry of questions: Did we order enough reading rewards for children? How will they know when they've qualified for one? Will the online registration work? What prizes will tempt grownups to complete a reading log? Will they like this year's mad scientist theme?
And this issue was tricky: how can everyone enjoy summertime when some define the ideal library visit as calm and thoughtful while others express high spirits in loud tones, sometimes romping around beyond a parent's field of vision?
Did we oversell the "second floor is the quiet floor" concept, and by directing phone calls, conversations, and general noisiness downstairs, foster the impression that first floor is "No Holds Barred" territory?
Our consensus: it's OK--considerate and responsible, in fact--to remind folks about library manners and the need for constant parental supervision in a highly public venue.
I work on the grownup floor and consequently admire the energy (and diplomacy!) required to manage the pleasant chaos resulting from large crowds drawn by summer performers. Still, as part of the team coordinating the adults' SRP, I envy the demographic perks of Youth Services' customer base.
Just think: children aren't encumbered by work responsibilities; grownups devote 40 potential reading and library-visiting hours to their jobs. Parents, mindful of the advantages of early literacy and summertime reinforcement, don't merely encourage library visits--they deliver and accompany their offspring!
The Adult Services audience, meanwhile, gets sidetracked by pesky non-library activities like the aforementioned employment, volunteer responsibilities, home and lawn maintenance, child care, meal preparation, bringing their young to children's programs...
Given our multitasking, responsible demographic, we appreciate each and every completed adult reading log and program attendee.
Not that grownups lack youthful tendencies. We observe "kid in the candy store" moments when overwhelmed adults ask for reading suggestions--"just a few, please!". Like the youngster who much prefers the sturdy packing carton to the shiny gift, a mature reader may bypass the new hardcovers and digital resources that we're most excited about, instead choosing a years-old paperback novel.
And grownups can put one in one's place almost as deftly as kids do. When a retired patron recently reported her 10-15 books per week average, I calculated my meager 1.5 for the past week (which included a book review deadline, work, houseguest). Answering my regretful "I didn't get through many this week", the customer huffed, "Well, I happen to think that reading is important!"
Ever had an unflattering photo making the rounds on social media? This happens to libraries, too. A valued (and justifiably frustrated) customer tweeted an image of the library's copy of Flowers for Algernon open to display facing pages, both thoroughly scribbled with blue ink.
Any parent would recognize the style as that of a child young enough to have believed that he/she was producing something pretty or entertaining. We expressed our regrets to the alert library patron and tagged the record so the damaged item can be taken out of circulation and replaced when it's returned.
These things happen. This anecdote doesn't just remind us what understanding customers we have; it also endorses the practicality of e-books. The library's digital books (Overdrive) are never late, lost, returned to the wrong library, or defaced.
On the other hand, library e-books frequently cost much more than the corresponding print editions, and some desired new titles aren't offered for library purchase and sharing, only to individual buyers. And, of course, so many backlist titles aren't available in digital format.
The perfect borrowing scenario (everything available for free on demand in pristine condition in one's preferred format) doesn't exist. But most of us appreciate and profit from the challenge of seeking out multiple formats. Readers who extol the convenience of collecting e-books and reading on mobile devices should certainly check out the library's Overdrive choices. If a particular title isn't offered there (or is checked out and you're in a rush), purchase from one's favorite online vendor may be the way to go. But remember: that title may be offered in print or audio at the library--at no cost to the borrower.
We've frequently chatted with customers who express delight with their e-readers--and then exit the library with an armload of print and possibly a Playaway or two.
In honor of National Poetry Month, here (with apologies to Robert Frost and his wonderful "The Road Not Taken") is my view of cost-effective reading: "The Savings Not Overlooked":
New novels were praised on a site I admire
But aware that if I bought them all
My wallet would suffer, I required
Of myself a solution, library-inspired
An alternative to financial downfall.
I then recalled Overdrive with borrowing free,
Which grants unto patrons a fourteen-day turn
With no risk of late fees. Then I could foresee
That no-cost e-reading would work handily---
No drawbacks or issues that I could discern.
But wait--for some titles, publishers may elect
To limit their access to just single buyers.
In which case it's savvy my search to direct
Back to print where there's frankly much more to select.
(If you read in both formats, success rates are higher.)
As for purchasing books: if they're masterfully penned,
Or for gifts or discussions, I'll pay Barnes and Noble
(Or Half-Price or Book Nook) glad, in the end,
For multiple options. What I recommend:
Exploit all resources--retail, print, and mobile.
April's first fifteen days may represent other priorities for you, but this is National Poetry Month. The Academy of American Poets website offers a multitude of ways to celebrate, including Poem in Your Pocket Day (4/24).
For an enjoyable and non-intimidating local occasion, consider the poetry reading at Round Rock Public Library. Co-sponsored by the Baca Center's Great Books Discussion Group and the library, this event features readings by poets and those who appreciate them. Each participant is invited to bring his/her own work or a favorite authored by someone else, well-known or otherwise (limit five minutes per speaker)--1:00 P.M. on Tuesday, April 29.
Having attended in previous years, I long ago put this on my calendar. And I am already scouting for my contribution (which probably should not be another Billy Collins selection, just to prove my awareness of other voices). As for the other option--presenting an original work--I annually consider and reject it for the benefit of all. This untitled composition explains why:
A poet lives inside each of us
some say; research has not proven otherwise.
But this line of inquiry bodes ill for me.
Confronted with the question by data-gathering types sporting lab coats and clipboards
I could only reply
(1) Evidently not, in my case
(2) Unless maybe one does--
unrecognizable as such
due to lack of talent
and a wretched sense of timing.
How else to explain the amalgam of
a mythic trickster
and a night-laboring elf
who ventures out of elected obscurity to engineer bizarre scenarios?
If I'm provisioned with a sparkling, quiescent page and comfortable chair
a setting meant to lure my thoughts into memorable self-revelation
this perverse force beams a defiant stare.
Elegantly miming a zipper sealing his lips, he retreats
perhaps pausing to brush the air with his clearly NOT ink-stained fingers, signalling later!
Or he may not. Regardless, he is gone. vanished. useless.
rested from non-exertion
he effects guest appearances on occasions
which I probably need not explain
require no creative expression and may only uncomfortably accommodate it.
He gleefully piles on evocative
in the conversational space allocated for one workmanlike noun:
shadows on neighbors' roofs
newly installed gardening mulch
comparative hues of paper being considered for promotional brochures.
In tribute to such commonplace views
something compels me to to spontaneously apply metaphors where labels should adhere
thus manufacturing poetry's unpopular distant cousin: TMI.
What if I never again bothered to bestow
a serene space
for my inner poet?
Fingertips on dust-furred tabletops
tapered twigs and an expanse of sand
a sad golf pencil and the back view of a grocery list:
only such grudging supplies
offered during hurried and inconvenient moments
would abet literary output.
Which would improve first--
For someone who pokes fun at shallow social networking relationships (one click and you're a "friend") I am awfully quick to claim comradeship with noted authors.
Without demonstrating equal talent, one can still bask in the approbation of kindred opinions.
Masterfully expressing viewpoints I share this week: Rebecca Mead and Annabelle Gurwitch. Mead's My Life in Middlemarch is balm for the souls of George Eliot admirers who love the notably lengthy Middlemarch, often dismissed as dry and irrelevant. Paralleling events and impressions from her own life with those of Eliot and her characters, New Yorker writer Mead conveys the novel's timeless appeal. But then, I've always been a fan.
Gurwitch's new essay collection on the perils of middle age-- I See You Made an Effort--has just fallen into my clutches, so I haven't spent quality time with it yet. Reviewers deem the edgy commentaries "rollicking" and "hilarious". In the library professions, aging is unfashionable these days, so I smiled to note Bob Odenkirk's assessment: "a book about the worst thing a person can do in America: get older".
Among Ms. Gurwitch's other writing and comedic accomplishments you may recall her stint as co-host of TBS' Dinner and a Movie a few years back--which represents a further opportunity for me to glom onto a proven concept: why not suggest themed pairings featuring library stuff?
Some of these resources will be new to your entertainment menu:
1920s DINNER AND DVD:
Try Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, based on Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher books, with high production values and authentic vintage costumes and settings. You can sample foods trendy in the Twenties (see Food Timeline). Or, search Los Angeles Public Library's Digital Menu Collection with date 192*.
THE ROCKWELL EXPERIENCE:
Read Deborah Solomon's new American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell and enjoy (what else?) Apple Pie; here you'll find step-by-step instructions, each stage illustrated.
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE:
That's what Mango Languages calls its latest feature, classic films offered in conjunction with your language lessons.
The Saving Mr. Banks soundtrack CD set includes previously unreleased pre-demo recordings by the Sherman brothers. According to Richard Sherman, "Tuppence a Bag"/"Feed the Birds" was Walt Disney's favorite song. You could pair a project with Walt's pick: listen, then search the library's Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center for "bird feeders".
Read The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff and savor some of Twain's favorite foods. According to Menus from History by Janet Clarkson, there were many; Twain's list from A Tramp Abroad includes at least three iterations of bacon, fresh seafood, a spectrum of the bread/pone/biscuit family, and "all sorts of American pastry".
Explore (book or audio CD) Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds, "the ultimate guide to public speaking"; then view a TED Joy of Eating segment.
Input "steampunk" in the library's Catalog Quick Search for a Steampunk fiction read. From there, consider the definition of "Steampunk Cuisine", perhaps even entertaining with "Tips for a Retro-Industrial Steampunk Party". And there's always RRPL's Small Engine Reference Repair Center...
Perhaps we should make TCM's Robert Osborne an honorary library staffer. He enhanced a customer interaction this week.
The caller queried, "I don't owe any fines, right?" Extra-busy recently, she'd lost track of time and required confirmation that nothing was overdue.
Well, you know what can happen when a basketful of items are checked out and the date due sneaks by. Little 20-cent late fees multiply--so she owed a few dollars. (Any library insider will tell you that late fees exist only to incentivize returning so everyone can share
tax-funded materials equitably. If all items came back on time, thus generating zero fines, we'd celebrate. And so would everyone who's ever been obliged to wait longer than necessary for his/her turn...)
"Not what I wanted to hear," she admitted, "but then who could afford to buy all those things if the library didn't have them?"
Here's where Mr. Osborne comes in. The customer brightened just then, remembering her brilliant acquisition from Friends of the Round Rock Public Library's Book Nook. She had chanced upon Osborne's 75 Years of the Oscars: The Official History of the Academy Awards and snagged it for two dollars! While that copy is outdated by library standards--we now offer Osborne's 85 Years of the Oscars --that once-costly trove of photos, trivia, and insider reportage is still "sooo entertaining" for the new owner and her friends.
Traffic to the Book Nook continues to increase, due to word-of-mouth testimonials like this. For $2 (paperbacks, $1) savvy customers walk away with items in at least good condition; some Nook donations are brand-new. Book lovers indulge in low-cost collecting; deserving volumes get new homes.
One Book Nook customer transforms pages into eye-catching paper wreaths.
I believe it's correct to classify her inventive art as upcycling or repurposing rather than recycling. Oxforddictionaries.com defines upcycle as "reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original". And upcycling has its own sub-categories, e.g. ,trashion.
In the introduction to his Upcycling: Create Beautiful Things with the Stuff You Already Have, Danny Seo advocates for eco-friendly concepts utilizing materials already on hand and salvaging from thrift stores and flea markets for this "higher form of recycling". He should know: his guide features tie-dye using Sharpies, robot figures made from pots and pans, and a potato chip bag mirror, for starters.
Delve into the library's Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center with keywords upcycl* or repurpose*, and you'll discover photos and how-to's for designs like shelves, tables, and chairs devised from vintage suitcases; a chair fabricated from old CDs; a designer-look necklace strung from broken jewelry; a mid-century-inspired clock born of a vinyl record; and loads of other outside-the-box notions.
A sampling of more upcycling/repurposing brilliance online:
Upcycle That (founded on Earth Day 2012)
Mother Earth News' Reusing Things: 100 Ideas of How to Reuse Commonly Thrown Away Items
Bob Vila's Repurposing for Creative Storage Solutions
HGTV's 25 Ways to Use Your Old Stuff
Blogger Gail Wilson's My Repurposed Life
Cashmere sweaters account for a surprising share of repurposing activity; cup holders, baby attire, pot holders, and bracelets represent the tip of the iceberg.
Do you fret about possessing too much of this pricey knitwear, underutilized due to slight damage or un-trendiness? Me neither.
We don't operate within Downton Abbey-like social strata, and no impenetrable physical barrier (that we know of) seals off the library's first floor from the second. Still, top-floor reference librarians go for long stretches of time without speaking to first-floor youth librarians.
And we like them! We just stay busy and fail to cross paths.
When our schedules eventually coincide, we share reading suggestions. Staffers who work with grownups love a top-drawer children's book as much as youth staff relish an accomplished adult novel. Colleague David--he works on both floors--recommended a Bluebonnet Award winner to me last week: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. Sure, I love a great title (so this story had me at "Origami Yoda") but of course what has impressed critics, judges, and readers about this tale is the self-empowerment achieved by a sixth grader who overcomes social ineptitude by crafting a paper Yoda puppet to dispense advice to fellow students.
Brilliant. We may forget that everyone else finds interpersonal issues difficult, too, but a perfectly timed solution is a universally acknowledged prize.
We don't label any particular section in the library as "SELF-HELP". At a bookstore, such a sign would guide you to volumes fostering higher earning power; discovery of the perfect life partner; acquisition of beneficial habits; clutter dispersal, etc. Our library offers those, too, along with databases that cardholders can use even when the library is closed; free tax filing assistance; free digital downloads; and many other options. Even fiction books (see above) can prove wonderfully life-enhancing.
For libraries, SELF-HELP could serve as front-door signage.
Some advice has held up admirably for centuries. Consider Polonius' tips on fashion investment in Hamlet: even Tim Gunn couldn't improve upon those. But lessons can become outmoded or at least suffer from that perception. Imagine basing your efforts to achieve teen social success on a 1950s popularity manual!
That's precisely what 15-year-old Maya Van Wagenen did. Intrigued by model Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide, Van Wagenen devised an experiment: try out some of those Eisenhower-era tips while keeping a detailed diary of the experience. Whatever social benefits Van Wagenen derived from the project, she can add a $300,000 book deal to the sum. Her manuscript, now titled Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, is due out April 15. Even better, Cornell's inspirational volume is also being republished that day.
No need to wait until April for newly released books offering all manner of guidance, though; here are a few titles I just spotted on the New Nonfiction shelf:
Arduino Robot Bonanza
Decoding Your Dog
Man Up: A Practical Guide to Being a Dad
Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential
200 Skills Every Cook Must Have
Smart Tribes: How Teams Become Brilliant
The Religions Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained
Online, you can access expert tips--even videos--on a very timely topic. Produced locally with Round Rock concerns in mind, Water Spot, City Water Conservation Program Coordinator Jessica Woods' amazingly helpful blog, offers advice and strategies that none of us can afford to miss.
In Valerie Martin's new The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, famed British author and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle is touring the United States. Though gracious among his fans, Doyle finds every dinner, interview, lecture, or appearance to be wearyingly predictable: the American penchant for steam heat will render him miserably warm; he will be implored to "bring back Sherlock Holmes"; he will yet again be solicited for his impressions of America.
One can sympathize; Americans' love for cozy interior climates and Sherlock Holmes--and their self-assurance--are documented.
And so is the Mary Celeste, an actual American ship discovered intact and adrift east of the Azores in 1872 with captain, crew, and the captain's wife and daughter missing. The vessel's enigmatic fate inspired an 1884 tale by Doyle titled "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement". Appearing in the well-regarded Cornhill magazine, the story (though not attributed to Doyle at the time) paid the author well. Since the account plays a role in Martin's multifaceted novel, readers, too, are handsomely rewarded.
Doyle's melodramatic yarn is just one player in the story encompassing a tragic seafaring clan, a heartrendingly tender couple, a resolute female journalist, a long-missing diary, and a charismatic young woman seemingly mystified by her ability to receive messages from the dead.
The ghost in the title isn't one that haunts the vessel; it has more to do with the spirit of America at the time: the national obsession with psychic phenomena such as "mediums" who allegedly bridged communication between the living and the dead. Both sea voyages and the 19th-century Spiritualism Movement attracted participants willing to venture beyond their elements--some merely extracting adventure from the experience, others forever losing their way.
I particularly enjoyed Martin's description of Pleasant Lake, a sort of Spiritualist resort, complete with séances, clairvoyant physicians, magnetic healers, and spirit photographers.
Viewing artifact photos of that time, we could scoff at the obvious fakery employed to produce depictions of, say, a widower shadowed by a faint image of his wife's "spirit"--or we could imagine how a lesser degree of sophistication combined with extreme grief could bring the possessor to find comfort in them. Though fictional, Martin's book reflects significant historical research and thus affords an authentic sense of this era in American history.
Some elements reflect our consciousness today. You need only glance at a TV schedule or new book display for evidence of our fascination with the paranormal. And as for creative attempts to portray a life beyond fact--check out all the strategically chosen, digitally altered, and idealized shots featured on Facebook profiles.
I'm not sure what it says about me that my Facebook profile shot is a Mad Men-style cartoon of a sheath-clad, bespectacled lady clutching a coffee cup. A friend commented, "You do know that's not very flattering, right?" I could only respond in the immortal words of Pigpen in A Charlie Brown Christmas: "On the contrary--I didn't think I looked that good."
For this significant anniversary, choose when you wish to observe it. (Don't try this at home; a wedding date is a wedding date.)
With World War I's centenary, the approach makes sense. Nations entered into the conflict over time, and some locales are noted for one definitive event. The city of Sarajevo plans its commemoration for June 21-28, 2014. France anticipated the generally agreed-upon remembrance dates of 2014-2018 by opening a new World War I museum in 2011. Turkey's "Anzac Day" event--April 25, 2015--will mark 100 years since Gallipoli.
Check the Centennial Commemoration of the United States in World War I website, and you'll find notes about the organization but no events yet (U.S. declared war in April 1917.)
Publishers mobilized their forces in advance to equip us with insightful reads. Classics like Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August and Eric Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front are being reissued. Margaret McMillan's The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 appears on several recommended reading lists.
Librarian Chris, who selects RRPL's nonfiction history resources, suggests these recent library acquisitions: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in1914 by Christopher Clark; Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson; Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings; The Great War: A Photographic Narrative by Mark Holborn and Hilary Roberts; To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild; and The Last of the Doughboys: the Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War by Richard Rubin.
Among a host of intriguing World War I novels, Jennifer Robson's Somewhere in France follows a British aristocrat who defies her family to train as an ambulance driver. P.S. Duffy's The Cartographer of No Man's Land considers physical and psychological battles through the eyes of a sensitive Nova Scotia boat captain/artist. Anita Shreve's Stella Bain also portrays a female ambulance driver whose case of what we would now label Post Traumatic Stress Disorder evokes the war's aftermath--horribly mutilated survivors, long-term care veteran care, early studies of "shell shock".
Sir Michael Howard observes, "...arguably, the Great War was one of the greatest tragedies of all of them because it was so inconclusive." While much of the unfinished business was political, families in all echelons of society faced lifetimes bereft of husbands, fathers, sweethearts, colleagues. Some of the most affecting Great War fiction considers postwar years 1918 into the next decade. P.S. Duffy reflects that an understanding of the 1920s requires an appreciation for World War I: "That hedonistic, devil-may-care, caution to the wind sense all comes from a sense of, "Well, we could all die tomorrow." "
Debut novelist Anna Hope's Wake memorably spans five days in November 1920, ending with the dedication of the Cenotaph and interment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. Three British women unknown to one another mourn a dead son and fiancé and a shattered, mute brother. They are unaware that their lives intersect as the Warrior's body is collected in France, ceremoniously transported to England, and laid to final rest.
The Twenties represent a tough sort of hopefulness. Wake invokes a slang term popular among the jazz-loving young adult set; it's intended as a compliment for anything beautiful, impressive, or admirable: "Killing!"
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