Reader's Exchange

Round Rock Night before Christmas 2014 (or, The Truth about Our Favorite Public Library Customer)

‘Tis Christmas Eve night, and Round Rock’s slumber-bound,
In the mood for a holiday story profound.

We desire an account of Saint Nick’s successes
With gifts all conveyed before dawn coalesces.

But what if, instead, this page shared revelations
Concerning the hero of our expectations?

For Santa’s not perfect: he’s prone to distraction.
His helpers must frequently re-direct action.

It now can be told that the elves micromanage—
But kindly and always to Santa’s advantage.

For starters, they have to hide Santa’s e-reader
Beneath a tall, festively-trimmed North Pole cedar.  

They’ve learned that their leader’s delivery pace quickens
When he yearns to get back to John Grisham or Dickens.

The elves also know that attractions in Round Rock
Represent, for tight schedules, a stumbling block.

When the windows of ArtSpace or sculpture displays
Snag Santa’s attention, they drag him away.

Ditto for the fabulous Rock’N Lights drive,
Of which (most regrettably) Santa’s deprived.

On the other hand, Santa applies to his mission
Perceptions ascribed to a master tactician.

Supplying his sleigh with an awesome sufficiency,
He briskly embodies a modern efficiency.

His app-laden phone can pinpoint chimney mounts,
And the cookie-and-milk tracker calories counts.

GPS-guided reindeer precisely chart courses,
So you'd think all things digital Santa endorses.

Well, you'd be mostly right (though no techie device
Has proven to properly check his lists twice).

No, Santa's a type both admired and exemplary:
Respecting tradition and 21st century.

nd that is what--library staffers exclaim--
Endears him to us even more than his fame.  

Like Santa, we offer a new-and-old fusion,
So customers’ smiles are a foregone conclusion.

With our databases, classics, and fiction debuts,
We even helped Santa check product reviews.

He never would outsource the checking of lists
But is glad when the library lends an assist

With elf-pleasing story times, demographics, and guidance
On suppliers of toys and requested appliances.

We pretend that we don’t comprehend his ID,
Detect his disguise and his purpose foresee.

He’s a library patron adored and ambitious
So on Christmas Eve we set out something delicious.

No baked goods or dairy—no, we intervene
With a tall foamy mug brimming full of caffeine.

And thus fortified for the rest of his flight,
Santa’s certain to wish one and all a Good Night

And Peace, Joy, and Happiness, Joyeux Noel,
From all of your friends here at RRPL!


From 2013:  "Rocksssanne's Christmas Eve Ramble"

And, 2012's "The Night Before Christmas at Round Rock Public Library"

The gift that keeps on changing

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like a wrapping a present and not giving it.  –William Arthur Ward

There!  With someone else’s graceful expression, I address the ThanksgivingBlackFridayChristmas mash-up constructively-- unlike what happened at home:  Schlepping laundry across the TV-viewing area last week, I spied a beloved holiday (hint: not Thanksgiving) production radiating merrily from the screen.  In tones better reserved for violent or slanderous content, I huffed, “Are you kidding me???” and stomped out. 

“Told you,” my daughter observed to my husband.

Thanksgiving, until recently, represented our last chance for appreciative reflection before the onslaught of commercial appeals to max out our credit cards in pursuit of Holiday Magic.  However, as confirmed by increasing numbers of retail employees obliged to depart family gatherings early or miss them altogether to staff pre-Black Friday promotions, standards continue to evolve. 

Chief among blessings I count are novels that explore facets of contemporary experience, thus helping us acquire greater perspective and process change.   

These forthcoming books—I’ve already designated them for library purchase—could accomplish that:

John Vaillant’s The Jaguar’s Children (Jan. 2015) imagines the plight of illegal immigrants abandoned in the Arizona desert in a broken-down water truck that has been welded shut in what Luis Alberto Urrea (The Devil’s Highway) calls …a real-world horror worthy of Stephen King.”

Detroit’s financial troubles precipitate the plight of a hard-working family in Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House (4/21/15) as their cherished investment falls victim to economic decline.

Readers heartened by the posthumous awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to three civil rights workers slain in 1964 should watch for Ravi Howard's Driving the King (1/6/15), set in 1950s Montgomery but based on an actual incident in Birmingham.  After a friend leaps onstage to defend Cole from a white audience member’s attack and consequently draws a prison sentence, Cole hires him as his chauffeur/bodyguard in Los Angeles. 

The Navy studies of combat roles for female soldiers could spark interest in these stories about other women in traditionally male spheres:  Angelina Mirabella's The Sweetheart (1/20/15)--women's professional wrestling in the early 1950s, and Anna Freeman’s The Fair Fight (4/14/15) –a female bare-knuckle fighter pursuing fame in 18th-century England.

If you’re intrigued by trends in workplace culture, try these soon-available novels, both of which have elicited comparisons to Kafka:  Swedish actor/playwright Jonas Karlsson's The Room (2/17/15) features a government employee who surmounts his co-workers' disdain by creating a special private workspace not visible to others.  The Guard by Peter Terrin (1/6/15) envisions a not-too-distant future in which Harry and Michel, confined to the basement of the luxury apartment building they are hired to secure, begin to sense that no one is left to protect...

Not (thankfully) related to actual events, Robert Repino's Mort(e) depicts an Orwellian upending of society--ants, in league with four-legged creatures, have taken over the world.  Look for it on 1/20/15; in the meantime, be especially kind to your pets.  

And the many fans of Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project will be grateful to follow developments (no spoilers here!) in The Rosie Effect, due out December 30.


All I want is a room somewhere (else)

It’s tempting to channel Eliza Dolittle, imagining what would be architecturally “loverly” even before blueprints for the new library get underway.

Recently I speculated how our workflow would benefit if staff offices were situated close together, so that we could quickly step over and consult with someone involved in cataloging, processing, or some other aspect of collection development.  Julie, who’d just trekked across second floor from her office to return a journal to the Reference office, nodded:   Yeah,” she agreed, “like the Panopticon in Horrorstor!”

Now, that Panopticon is a dreadful (and thankfully fictional) destination.  But take away the torture devices and utter despair, and you have an undeniably collaborative floor plan.  We gave Julie a thumbs-up.

But then ideas from unexpected sources are always energizing.  My current TV favorite, Flea Market Flip, could run for decades before I’d tire of cheering its intrepid contestants. With budget and list in hand, they troll through acres of random stuff, suddenly halting to exclaim over sad, damaged chairs, rusty industrial parts, and unstylish bedroom suites. Combining vision and an encyclopedic knowledge of crafts (and usually spray paint) they rehabilitate their finds into trendy creations sold at a profit.

Though not a fan of the ubiquitous Midcentury end table projects, I admire the fusion of thrift, repurposing, and out-of-the-box inspiration. 

That said, I clearly need to balance imagination with attention to more conventional goings-on.   Here it is November--National Novel Writing Month--and I’m not participating due to zero plot ideas.  But other authors have been alert to life as we know it.  Their titles demonstrate the appeal of burnishing already-relatable themes--less spray paint, more polish:

Monica McInerney’s Hello from the Gillespies   entertainingly considers the Annual Christmas Letter tradition.  Recipients of other families’ oh-so-perfect holiday newsletters (a demographic which includes everyone I know) have surely wondered which events went unreported.  And consider the soul-freeing option of at least momentarily committing to holiday-themed paper (or email) all the disappointments and frustrations blotting one’s past year.  What could possibly go wrong there?

William Hazelgrove gift-wraps another Yuletide standard, the Santa Claus question, in Real Santa.  A classic scenario--father recently unemployed yet determined to preserve a child’s delight in magic—ramps up extravagantly; this father knows the right people (or so he believes) and spares no expense.  From the Booklist review:  “If somebody doesn’t make a movie out of this book, there’s something wrong with the world.”

Julie Schumacher’s heartwarmingly satirical Dear Committee Members stars English professor Jason Fitger in a Grinch-y role.  Fitger’s department is underfunded, downtrodden, and forced to dodge plummeting chunks of plaster while the Economics department one floor above gets a posh renovation.  Furious and faced with a constant inflow of requests for letters of recommendation, Jason finally (and luckily for fiction fans) resorts to decrying wrongs and venting outrage via all those LORs.

Imagine availing oneself of an established informational channel just to publicize one’s observations!  What kind of person would do that?

Pre-owned and priceless

Some museum curators travel the globe to acquire items of significance.  A more budget-friendly strategy:  pick up the phone and graciously accept when, out of the blue, a caller offers to donate and deliver something exceptional.  Actually, that’s the only approach if your institution operates on almost no budget with a part-time staff of one. 

That’s my mom.  The artifact just acquired by the Fannin County Museum of History: a custom hand-tooled saddle that belonged to famed cowboy photographer Erwin E. Smith, she reported last week.  (FCM, incidentally, honors another local boy-- electric guitar pioneer Charlie Christian.)  

The donation sounded beautiful and impressive, but I did wonder if a photograph or something documented its belonging to Smith.  Should I ask about provenance? I worried---just as Mom’s excited description continued with “…and along the edge, Mr. Smith’s name embossed in big letters.”  Provenance—check!

For our Antiques Roadshow-viewing household, ownership history creates the most rewarding moments: handwritten notes evidencing humor or kindness, furniture fakes attesting to trusting natures, photographs demonstrating how far back in time a necklace was worn—or how proudly a uniform was displayed in the subject’s last portrait in this life. 

With some discoveries come jaw-dropping insurance valuations that prove how documentation translates into dollars.  No wonder readers seeking books about art and museum treasures so often find them cataloged with the terms “forgeries” or “theft”.  

And what were the odds that I’d discover two books with “heist” in the title side by side on the Large Print shelf?  Molly Caldwell Crosby’s The Great Pearl Heist (one reviewer called it “a gem”) is a true-crime delight, recounting the 1913 theft in London of a strand of perfectly matched pink pearls valued at “twice the price of the Hope Diamond.”  (Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, stolen in 1911, was returned to the Louvre that same year.)   Ulrich Boser’s The Gardner Heist addresses the $500 million dollar theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (“one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries”) that included Rembrandt’s only seascape.

In contrast to these nonfiction accounts of thieves fully cognizant of their targets’ provenance, the library’s New Fiction shelf offers Sonya Cobb’s The Objects of Her Affection, imagining a museum curator’s wife in need of some quick cash to fend off mortgage foreclosure.  Spying a cart of miscellaneous museum donations unguarded (thus, she thinks, of no particular value) she guesses that a couple of them wouldn’t be missed…

Susan Vreeland’s new Lisette’s List portrays a small art collection lovingly displayed in a humble French home, affording their owner comfort and inspiration but attracting covetous attention from occupying German forces.    Viewed alternately as trophies for Hitler and family heirlooms, the paintings act as great characters do--inspiring schemes, radiating hope, embodying unique viewpoints.  

Historical fiction fans and readers who savored the artistic insights in Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring will love this novel.  The story attests to the life-affirming power of art, and, with Vreeland’s name on it, carries a solid provenance.

That ship has sailed. Hope there were books aboard...

Did you celebrate New Year’s last week?  

Beginning October 1, City of Round Rock is operating in fiscal year 2014-15.  Friends of the Round Rock Public Library hosted a clever “End of Fiscal Year” event on September 30 for staffers with homemade goodies, non-alcoholic fruit "champagne" in glamorous bottles, and a cake.   Now, that’s how an annual wrap-up of acquisitions, deliveries, and accounting was meant to be observed!

As the sugar rush subsided, I realized that Banned Books Week had passed without much hoopla this year (see aforementioned FY deadline)--though Ron Pitchman’s photo with a copy of Captain Underpants on the library’s Facebook page was decidedly a highlight.

But we believe in honoring BBW’s principle—“freedom to read”—all year, every year.   Libraries ensure access to resources so that everyone can select (or not!) according to his/her own taste and needs while allowing others the same privilege.

Controversial literature has been with us always.  We've heard those back-in-the-day anecdotes about books kept behind the library counters or simply not acquired in some locales due to prevailing standards and tastes.   Now, many of those once-maligned titles occupy slots on recommended reading lists for college bound students.   Jodi Harvey-Brown book art

Those lists come in handy (suggestions, not mandates) when customers ask to be shown “the classics section”-- a shelving area that doesn’t exist physically but certainly occupies mental real estate.  We believe that classics represent enduring works--the best of the best.  But “best” in what regard—admirable prose, relevant theme, beloved characters?  For some, the “classic” designation is reserved solely for titles proven to be genteel or “safe”.   

Of course, there are ways to avoid tricky literary judgments.  Some recent fiction offerings suggest that we can simply wait for circumstances to whittle down our options.

Citizens in Ally Condie’s young adult-level Matched trilogy are never overwhelmed when selecting works of art, poems, or books.  With only one hundred Society-approved choices for each, little deliberation is required.  All other options have been eliminated; the cultural landscape is devoid of “clutter”. 

(As a librarian, I should regard this scenario with horror.  I do, after first pragmatically reflecting how simple it would be, with only 100 titles on offer, to stay within budget while supplying oodles of copies --print, large print, audio CD, MP3 player, downloadable audio, ebook…)

Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling imagines a society with medieval trappings existing after, not in advance of, a high-tech age.   Following a world-shattering event, this society’s ancestors set sail for a new land where books now exist, but only those salvaged from the earlier life.  The printing press has not yet been re-invented.

As the newly crowned young queen (a major fiction fan) encourages castle workers and their children to borrow her volumes freely, a royal guardsman unable to comprehend the readers’ enthusiasm comments “I don’t understand your fascination with the damned things.  They don’t feed or protect you.  They don’t keep you alive. But I see that they’re important to you”.

That’s a nice take on “freedom to read”; even better is Johansen’s observation that, while books by Tuchman, Rowling, and Tolkien are especially treasured in the royal library, “there seemed to be something for everyone.” 

Feeling listless?

Which of these is the wrong answer to a reference question?

A.  You're kidding, right?
B.  Sorry, no can do.
C.  Ummmmm....
D.  All of the above

I did use "C" recently--following up, thankfully, with useful information.

A customer I'd assisted weeks ago with "readalike" suggestions (he'd finished everything by his favorite author) forgot to bring the list I prepared for him.  His kids were waiting downstairs, he was in a hurry, so could I just quickly remember those names and give him another copy?


Of course I came up with another list--but not off the top of my head or exactly like the previous one.    And my lack of eidetic memory isn't the only reason.

Neverhome coverReadalikes are, like snowflakes, numerous and ephemeral.    "What to read next" authors I've used successfully for years get supplanted when I discover newer, more appropriate ones.   The best lists derive from multiple sources, and the exact combination is difficult to remember.  Also, (as anyone who's consulted Goodreads, Novelist, or other reading troves knows) it's possible to unearth so many potential choices that great matches become lost in the pile.

And success isn't guaranteed.  Because readers bring as much to the enjoyment of a book as writers do,  the best reading comparisons--like Ebenezer Scrooge's spirits--occur unbidden and in their own good time.

That's what happened with two stellar new novels I read over the weekend; they effortlessly conjured similarly wonderful novels ideal for future list-giving: 

In Laird Hunt's Neverhome, "Ash"-- a young Indiana wife who enlists to fight for the Union in the Civil War--relates heart-wrenching adventures vividly, in artless rural rhetoric with surprising eloquence.  Hunt's wonderful prose lends major impact to this small volume. 

Stephen Crane's battlefield setting and notable imagery in The Red Badge of Courage naturally came to mind, as did Cold Mountain's palpable sense of home-seeking.  A favorite Jane Smiley book, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, memorably chronicles another woman in disguise, this time before the Civil War.   DeAnne Blanton and Lauren Cook's nonfiction They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War would be a great pre- or post-Neverhome  choice.  And some of Ash's more desperate moments recalled from Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist  the near-feral behavior of other young women cornered by circumstances. Station Eleven cover

The intriguing story-within-a-story device in Emily St. John Mandel's dystopian Station Eleven brings to mind Margaret Atwood's excellent The Blind Assassin.  As in Walter Miller's classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mandel's characters are driven to fashion archives of their lost worlds.  Fans of the similarly post-apocalyptic World Made By Hand books by James Howard Kunstler will appreciate Mandel's depiction of "new world" resourcefulness and self-governance dilemmas.    The pace of calamity in Station Eleven contrasts with the incremental demise of Earth in Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles, yet both authors achieve a movingly elegiac sense of dawning sorrow for the years ahead. 

Next time someone asks me to recommend a great read, I'll think of Neverhome and Station Eleven.  And, once you've read them, you'll be thinking how very foolish it would be to ever depart from home without sturdy flat shoes, antibiotics, and a sackful of batteries. 

That's the spirit

This happened before Youtube and smartphones; otherwise the moment would have inevitably been shared: we're among a summertime gaggle of tourists entering the Alamo--pausing inside the threshold to consider worn, hand-fashioned walls scarred by history.  A visitor farther back in line surveys the first sign he sees, taking offense at the polite directive: "Are you kidding me?  Who says I have to take my hat off?  Whaddaya think this is--a shrine or something?"

I wonder if the thermostat registered that chill in the atmosphere as eyes collectively narrowed and dozens of hatless heads swiveled in his direction. 

On a lighter note, a non-Texan friend, respectful but whimsical, couldn't resist the observation that Travis missed a strategic opportunity--he could have posted a sentry on the roof of the Crockett Hotel....

The Crockett did provide a (non-military) solution when my daughter's birthday came around this year. Having changed jobs in the past year, she'd had no chance of a vacation in many months; I proposed a micro-vacation/overnight getaway.  San Antonio's museums, Riverwalk, and a re-visit to the Alamo were her choice. 

The ghost tour was a lucky last-minute add-on.  Shepherded by a young lady attired in a hoop skirt and equipped with an iPad (to display historic photos), about twenty ticketholders met in Alamo Plaza to stroll through downtown, pausing from time to time to admire facades and be regaled with tales imparting equal amounts of history and hauntings.  The phantom chambermaid at the Menger Hotel, the swimming pool constructed from old hospital operating tables at the Emily Morgan Hotel, gory hangings and interred ashes at the Holiday Inn Express (former Bexar County Jail), reported apparitions at San Fernando Cathedral and more--all were recounted charmingly as though they'd been just discovered by our guide, not rehearsed nightly.  Paper ghosts

We didn't follow up on photo-snapping opportunities; somehow, pursuing digital capture of phantom images seemed unfair.   But the structured meander through the quiet streets, graced by illuminated horse-drawn carriages and the rapt attention of fellow tourists, was delightful.  Besides, ghost stories are a wonderful introduction to any city; they invite one to focus s exploration on sites and past events that promise a personal connection.

Our library offers Haunted Texas Vacations: the Complete Ghostly Guide and similar books about the region's ghost legends.  I even momentarily wondered if we should borrow the ghost tour concept for the library.  (It would certainly address the ever-present Library Concern:  "How can we demonstrate the library's uniqueness--what we offer that sets us apart?")

First drawback: no library ghosts (that we know of).  Sure, we could jazz up the unexplained phenomena:  "And now, ladies and gentlemen, did you know that library books sometimes leave the library and are never seen again?  And here--behold!-- a microfilm printer that (pause to widen eyes and gesture dramatically) sometimes switches off for no apparent reason!"

I know.  The tour idea needs (a) paranormal activity and (b) professional help.   Who we gonna call?

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.

Going up?

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.) Horrorstor cover

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.

All I want is more

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. Oliver Twist asking for more gruel

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).

Just wait 'til you hear

We understand why library customers ask us The Question (how we feel about “libraries going away now that we have ebooks and the internet”). 

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 want “also”.

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 audiobook narrators.

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.
Clamor for HP books

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.

Which came first: the fried chicken or...?

“What was 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 every day!” 

Ignoring 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. 

Last 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!” 

BEA called to mind another rewarding variety of takeaway—candid gems from authors whose work we cherish. 

The Library 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: 

Lisa 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”. 

Scottoline, who loves to visit libraries and has done so countless times, confessed, “I’m a library ***.” 

Lengendary 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.” 

Lee Brian 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. 

Addressing 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”. 

Marlon 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.” 

Chelsea 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.    

Asked which women authors deserved bigger audiences, the “Women Writing Fiction” panel recommended these up-and-coming talents:

Princess Bride mug
S.J. Bolton
Victoria Schwab
Lidia Yuknavitch
Linda Castillo
Karen Witemeyer
Sarah Gran
Sarah Beth Durst
and Stephanie PerkinsThe library has books by everyone on this list.

Finally, 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!” 

And the hints just keep on coming

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.  Fresh green juice

 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.

The art and (mad) science of summertime

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?   Mad Scientist

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!"

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