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!"
Jennifer Lawrence and I face different challenges.
I worry about income tax filing and furry rooftop intruders at home and maxed-out Fiction shelving at work. Poor Jennifer, on the other hand, is tasked with maintaining her ever-increasing trove of award statuettes, determining which enviable film roles to accept, and choosing designer gowns that don't elicit critics' comparisons to Ariel's makeshift frock in The Little Mermaid.
Here's what we have in common: appreciation for less conspicuous films and books.
Certainly, high-grossing productions earn their popularity for good reasons. But the artists behind those thriving endeavors are already amply recompensed. They don't need me. When I bestow my patronage on quieter, more esoteric projects or the work of newcomers, I derive satisfaction from the sense of having somehow encouraged them.
Interviewers report Ms. Lawrence's initial reluctance to play Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, citing her love of independent film. Lawrence's ultimate acceptance of the role was prompted by her "fondness for strong-spirited characters".
I imagine Jennifer would be intrigued by two resolute types I've lately encountered. Ronald Frame's recent Havisham and M.D. Waters' Archetype (available next month) both consider the plight of a woman with potential far exceeding the prescribed behavior of her society.
But these aren't just chick books (not that this would be a bad thing...). Havisham invents the backstory that fans of Dickens' Great Expectations have hankered for. We know that Miss Havisham still wears the gown sewn for a wedding cancelled at the last minute, but haven't we wished for more insights, speculating as to the personality of the young bride-to-be? In Frame's telling, young Catherine Havisham's exposure to wider society is curtailed by parental and economic pressures. When eventually confronted with dilemmas
native to her privileged class, she is thus lacking in precisely the social context that could have informed her decisions. Today, with narrowly focused informational channels limiting our own view if we let them, Catherine is both a cautionary tale and an engrossing character
M.D. Waters' debut, Archetype, variously described as "speculative", "thrilling", "gothic", and "dystopian", delivers themes reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale and The Stepford Wives. Beautiful protagonist Emma, like Catherine, also has wedding issues: she doesn't
recall having a husband--or even understanding "husband" as a concept when the story opens. You see, Emma suffered a terrible "accident" but now is daily gaining strength and comprehension, thanks to the unrelentingly attentive staff at a "hospital" where the entire floor is devoted to her care (Emma's husband Declan is very rich and very powerful). As the sinister quotation marks above hint, all this does not signal good fortune for Emma. She, like Catherine, lacks access to all the facts. So far. Just keep turning those pages...
Jennifer could tackle either of these thought-provoking roles. Both struggle with misdirected desire, have branding" issues, and are viewed as commodities in a male-dominated society; both are alternately tantalized and tormented by memories.
Two final thoughts: First, is it just my imagination, or don't both book covers suggest graphic representation of the author's surname? Second, if you're an indie film follower like Jennifer, check out the library's IndieFlix access online.
As of this writing, IRS' Facebook page has been "Liked" 17,878 times.
Surely it's OK to express surprise. Noting that Round Rock Public Library has 1,687 Likes and we're SO much nicer wouldn't be quite as appropriate. And of course further speculation (e.g., how improbable it would be that anyone would un-Like the IRS) would verge on snarkiness.
Whenever I meet with an invitation to "Like us on Facebook"--particularly from a multinational corporation or dignified institution of long standing--I sense a neediness equated more with seventh grade than with the business world.
But perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to differentiate. Seventh grade is tough--notable increases in workload; changing relationship paradigms; heightened competitiveness; expectation for personal career/vocational forecasting. And of course the need to be liked is paramount.
Seventh grade success strategies could serve one admirably throughout life. And the internet affords so many useful tools.
Remember this 7th-grade artifact: the diary that one used to record impressions, hopes, concerns, lessons learned? Those documentary journals exist in vibrant profusion online these days (though with less verbiage devoted to the cute boy in homeroom). We call them blogs.
Consider this sampling of online resources for addressing 7th grade/life realities:
People like savvy communicators: TweetQuereet analyzes key interests and allows you to receive your most relevant tweets in a daily digest. SecretInk enables you to send a message that can be read just once (before it self-destructs). Nextdoor, a great solution for neighborhood associations, facilitates a private network to share timely information ("for sale" alerts, etc.).
Yes, you are judged on appearance: Free photo editor Fotor offers clip art, special effects, a mosaic tool, collage and card capability. For your project or home or small business, try LogoGarden's free, simple-to-use tool to create a new logo. Weebly provides what you need to set up a free website or blog with a handy drag-and-drop editor.
The opposite sex is really interesting: Yes, but given the plethora of amazingly specific dating sites--for farmers, tall people, folks with red hair, Trekkies, Ivy League graduates, etc. etc--we'll set this topic aside in favor of...
Good habits pay off: Spend a few minutes every day to stimulate your mind (and satisfy your curiosity) with sites like Digital Public Library of America (virtual exhibits and over 2.4 million artifacts from museums and archives all over the country) and Today in History (which focuses on "one event each day which is put in a socio-cultural context".)
You don't have to know what you want to be when you grow up yet: But Occupational Outlook Handbook can advise you what training/certification is required for any career, also whether opportunities in that field will increase or diminish in the next few years.
People like those who can talk about what they like: NPR's First Listen offers the chance to hear movie soundtracks, indie bands, etc.before the street date. Forvo tells you how to pronounce words--not just in English and not just the ones in the dictionary; names and locations in the news are included. Reddit tracks trends and news on many, many topics.
As Jon Stewart observed, "The Internet is just a world passing notes around the classroom."
Thankfully, this malady is easier to cure than flu. I refer to CPF (Cookie Press Fixation, sometimes diagnosed as SCPA--Spritz Cookie Production Addiction). Having achieved nifty results with the dough-filled cookie gun, no baker can stop with a single batch. The affected individual is driven to mix batter and extrude edible holiday shapes until exhaustion sets in.
I was in the throes of CPF Sunday afternoon; two batches of cookies weren't sufficient. Eyes glazing and trigger hand twitching, I'd just gathered ingredients for multiple batches of cheese straws when my husband and daughter headed out to watch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. "Have fun!" I offered distractedly, clearing the cooling rack for my next fix.
Had I been in my right mind, they would also have heard, "and no need to share your insights afterward." But they know this already.
Despite repeated exposure to both print and film versions, I failed to bond with Lord of the Rings narrative or any single character therein. The LOTR gene must be absent from my DNA, or possibly I've expended all my interest on other worlds--Downton Abbey, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, etc.
But LOTR antipathy doesn't make me a bad person, right? I'm kind to animals; I make cookies (see above); I never say "Bah, humbug" or steal presents in Whoville.
And I'm eager to recap recommendations for books (unlike The Hobbit ) published in 2013, read in their entirety, and personally deemed top-notch.
Just preface each item with "If you like...":
...sensitive stories that inspire you to shout "Nooooo!" at the protagonist although you know he can't hear you, consider Indiscretion by Charles Dubow.
...riveting prose and a plot that can't be adequately described without "gritty" or "visceral", try Goat Mountain by David Mann.
...Maeve Binchy, you shouldn't miss A Week in Winter. (Published posthumously, this is the beloved Irish author's last novel; look for Chestnut Street--short stories--in 2014.)
...peeks behind the arts scene in Belle Époque Paris, you should check out Where the Light Falls by Katherine Keenum and The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan. (Buchanan's website reported in November that Painted Girls "has been optioned for a television series by the CW Network and CBS Television".)
...dark, creepy, gothic narratives for grownups, you'll appreciate Rustication by Charles Palliser.
...delightful essays by delightful people, pick up Elinor Lipman's I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays.
...character novels with an added dimension of suspense, look for The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure and The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Ellizabeth Kelly.
...The Big Bang Theory, Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project is a must-read.
...experiencing life in another decade, try The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani (1930s) and Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine (1960s in Greenwich Village).
...garnering insider expertise within a compelling story, you'll appreciate Peggy Heskith's Telling The Bees.
...Downton Abbey, don't miss Fay Weldon's trilogy: Habits of the House 2012/Long Live the King/The New Countess, both 2013.
...a tale of a good girl gone bad, get The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. (In the 1920's Prohibition setting, our good girl may be simply realizing her potential...)
...an unreliable (what an understatement) narrator in an exotic setting, look into The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara.
...reading about a family as complicated as your own, join the many admirers of The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri.
...someone writes another version of that classic holiday poem.
This one celebrates downtown Round Rock (don't forget Christmas Family Night on Dec. 6) and Rocksssanne, the library's beloved (and intrepid) snake mascot.
*** Rocksssanne's Christmas Eve Ramble ***
‘Tis the night before Christmas, and Round Rock is silent,
Especially downtown--no parked cars, no clients
Main Street is dormant, no citizens stirring,
‘Til dawn on that holiday fondly recurring.
With offices, cafes, and ArtSpace all drowsing,
The library's not even open for browsing.
(Though our online resources you always can use
Any day, any hour, to inform and amuse.)
The staff is all home in their festive abodes,
Slumbering on, gifts already bestowed.
For Santa made Round Rock his first stop this year.
He's checked twice, delivered, and then disappeared.
Folks won't, ‘til the dawning light, rise and exclaim
Over Santa's largesse--books, gadgets, and games.
And back at the library, gladly detected,
Is the strange stash of goodies that one soul expected.
Rockssssanne, the library snake, wakes to find
The tastiest tidbits to which she's inclined.
Suffice it to say they're for snakes apropos
But we won't elaborate--you don't want to know!
The tower of treats, brightly gift-wrapped and stacked
Reached so high that it caused the cage top to unlatch
Rocksssanne slithers out, leaves her trove unattended
To pursue an adventure she's oft comprehended.
For once--just this once--she can finally explore
The joys of the top floor unknown heretofore.
Though she cherishes kids and her comfy confinement,
Rocksssanne yearns for novel new views and refinement.
Her journey is trickier than she'd supposed,
With obstacles previously undisclosed:
The stairs are so tall--and someone spilled glitter
That sticks to her skin. But she isn't a quitter.
She propels herself upward, so flush with ambition
The staircase becomes just a blurred apparition.
As she glimpses the stations where patrons compute,
To Rocksssanne, they symbolize forbidden fruit.
Pausing just on the brink of the second-floor landing,
Reptilian intellect quickly expanding,
Rocksssanne spies the shelves and the tall reference desk--
But then hears a sound both aghast and grotesque.
"EEEEEyikes!" cries Michelle, who's come to retrieve
A gift she had purchased and not meant to leave.
She's startled to find both the open snake coop
And, all up the stairs, golden glittering swoops.
"I'm busted!" thinks poor Rocksssanne, hastening home
Already regretting her whimsical roam.
She'd never envisioned a scary invasion
Just a brief promenade on this merry occasion.
The library director gives her a grin
And pats the cage lid, now the python's within.
"No harm done," she says, "All that great information
Is meant to lure minds out of dull hibernation."
Keying in the alarm code, she stops to express,
"I admire your example, I freely confess.
For folks here in Round Rock--kids, grownups, and ‘tweens--
Let's all seek discoveries in 2014!"
What do you get when you mix a trendy (once upon a time) yellow and chrome dinette, sleek-fronted white cabinets, your grandmother's canister set, and gaudy, what-were-they-thinking wallpaper? It was simultaneously a kitchen and a Sparkling Sixties time capsule.
But the restaurant-grade stove had produced dinners for visiting heads of state, celebrities, and the family of the President of the United States.
The dozen or so folks in our tour group at LBJ's Texas White House ambled about thoughtfully, intent on the sights and insights offered by our guide. Someone pointed out the pie on the stovetop.
Yes, our guide confirmed, it was pecan. Background: President and Mrs. Kennedy were slated to visit the LBJ ranch following the visit to Dallas and event in Austin on November 22, 1963. Mrs. Davis, the Johnsons' cook, told that Jackie Kennedy had never tasted pecan pie, baked one for the occasion. As she removed it from the oven, the news bulletin flashed from Dallas. Staff and Secret Service men huddled together following the tragic proceedings via the small TV atop the fridge. The kitchen's clock registers 1:00 P.M.
The room fell silent we gazed at two unremarkable items--one on the wall and one in a pie tin--elevated from objects to icons because now they tell a story.
Along with the host of recent JFK publications, I've been especially attentive to new sources of iconic imagery this week. These all demonstrate wonderful visual shorthand:
Earth: The Definitive Visual Guide (2nd edition) DK Publishing, known for excellent graphics, collaborated with the Smithsonian Institution for this gorgeous volume. Science, geography, and history are so compellingly depicted that even those not usually drawn to these subjects should find this hefty tome a page-turner.
The Civil War in 50 Objects by Harold Holzer. For the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Holzer (Kirkus Reviews terms him "a modern dean of Civil War studies") selected fifty artifacts incisively reflecting the forces leading up to the war, the battles, and the aftermath. Quotations, anecdotes, and narrative accompany each photo; great for history and Civil War buffs.
ARKive. Judged "an awe-inspiring record of life on Earth" by Scout Report, this site features vibrant visuals and data on over 15,000 species, with content for educators and children.
Moments That Made the Movies by David Thomson. This one just came in; I'm not so patiently waiting for it to be processed. The title says it all; Publishers Weekly calls it "eminently browseable".
Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990 by Nathan Benn. It's still on order, but we're in for a treat. Wall Street Journal judges the images produced by the former National Geographic photographer "both timeless and particular".
Life in Color: National Geographic Photographs. This stunning collection reminds us that color produces its own emotional climate. In the foreword, Jonathan Adler cautions readers to "prepare for sensory overload." You'll see why.
Wouldn't these selections make marvelous holiday gifts?
During December, you'll see these and other present-worthy publications featured on the second floor book tower.
If two people in your workplace showed up outfitted in superhero costumes (it's not Halloween) how surprised would you be?
My sighting at the library did occur within a few days of trick-or-treat time. But the main point is that when I observed two Youth Services librarians thus attired, what first caught my notice were Janette's nifty earrings and Andrea's cute new glasses frame. The capes, logos, belts, etc. registered only on a secondary level.
Well, children's librarians are known for amazing exploits of programming and entertainment; their outfits were in character. Super people make difficult undertakings look easy.
It's fair to say that others we encounter on a daily basis could justifiably include flashy costumes in their wardrobes. Instead of Casual Fridays, we could have Cape Fridays...
Library colleague Tricia noted how unusual it is for a poetry book (Billy Collins' Aimless Love) to make the New York Times Bestseller list. This recognition--for producing selections so polished and accessible that thousands of Americans can overcome the perception that they aren't poetry readers--spotlights how heroic the literary gift for thought-distilling really is. Reading Billy Collins, you'll not only smile or sigh at the aptness of his phrasing--you'll want to try writing poetry yourself (this will only enhance appreciation for his effortless style). This Library Journal article notes other contemporary poets whose work you might also enjoy.
During Halloween festivities, we glimpsed some young customers flaunting super-heroic garb, but we all judged their parents to be the most cape-worthy. Juggling books, strollers, craft projects, schedules, and everything else on that day's agenda with aplomb, these multitasking moms and dads managed to appear calm and good-humored amid the chaos. That's no simple feat.
And those of us who work at the Reference Desk upstairs would definitely award volunteer Jacquie Wilson a cape embellished with a jewel-encrusted "GA" (the gems would have to be fake, the library craft closet is our only procurement resource). Jacquie is known as Genealogy Advisor--a role as day-saving as anything Marvel Comics ever dreamed up. Imagine: someone willing to listen raptly to your clan's history, then prescribe where and how you can fill in the missing twigs on your family tree. Like those Ancestry commercials that give the impression of instantaneous family tree discovery, Jacquie's searches tend to prove themselves fruitful more quickly than happens for lesser mortals.
Family history researchers will rightfully contend that genealogy is not for sissies. As Samuel Johnson observed, "What is easy is seldom excellent."
Another stalwart crew of aspirants--authors in the throes of National Novel Writing Month--would second Robert Kiyosaki's contention: "You have to be smart. The easy days are over." I'm sitting out this NaNoWriMo year but as a two-year veteran can attest to one of the great rewards of NaNo participation: after producing a 50,000 word novel in one sleep-deprived month, in December you'll certainly believe that easy days are here again.
"You were right!" I told my husband Monday evening. "You're not the only person in the world who thinks Buckaroo Bonzai is a great movie. I met the other guy today."
That would be Ernest Cline, author of the acclaimed Ready Player One, October's discussion choice for the Round Rock New Neighbors (Barnes and Noble) book group. Cline's ebullient commentary about his genre-bending novel, screenwriting, the cult film Fanboys (which he authored), publisher bidding wars, 80's pop culture, and the writing life in general kept attendees vastly entertained. Cline's appearance would have earned raves even had he not brought his DeLorean for attendees to explore and photograph themselves with--but he DID.
My enjoyment of this phenomenal author visit wavered just momentarily. Claudia, who nominated Ready Player One in the first place, mentioned that Wil Wheaton read the audiobook--which, I realized to my horror, I’d overlooked when selecting titles for the library (we have the print version, of course). Thanks to second chances and product inventory, both CD and Playaway versions are now on our October order lists. (Mr. Cline will also appear at the library’s International Games Day festivities.)
Also worthy of a re-think: Just A Pinch, an online recipe trove forwarded by City Communications Director Will Hampton. It seemed a nice enough recipe finder at first; then I tried several searches to appreciate its useful social networking functions as well (over 3.6 million site visits per month, more than 250,000 entries). The chicken recipe that Will found there and home-tested is one that my own family would love. I even found the exact brownie recipe -- Speedy Brownies -- that I swear by. It produces perfect texture every time and invites all manner of experimentation with toppings (try Andes Mint chips). The startling but endearing Halloween Spider Cookies were also "pinched" from Just A Pinch.
Which reminds me (you'll see why) of this overlooked and under-appreciated endeavor: Friends of the Round Rock Public Library. If you read that FOL is “an independent non-profit 501 (c) (3) corporation that supports the city-funded library”, you’ll be administratively enlightened without any sense of the fun and energy embodied by this crew.
You’ve likely enjoyed some FOL-funded features at the library: teen room shelving, the eye-catching Children’s Desk, traveling exhibits, special adult programs, summer reading program prizes, etc. Customers brag about the fabulous bargains they discover on second floor at the Book Nook—organized, re-stocked, and administered by FOL. Recycling at its best, Book Nook enables volumes to find new homes while generating profits to spend enhancing library users’ experiences.
We staffers love encountering Friends as they sort, stock, sell, strategize, and generally do amazing work. Precisely the kind of folks you’d want to hang out with, they are seeking talents you may possess—including but not limited to technical expertise for the website and assistance with Mystery night. Their special membership meeting, featuring Paige Morgan of Paige’s Bakehouse in Round Rock (she’ll demonstrate how to make and decorate holiday cake pops!) is coming up on November 12 at 7 p.m.Come take a look (or two).
No disrespect implied, but I've left witches and pumpkins behind, forging ahead to Thanksgiving mode this week. It's all due to Daniel Woodrell.
The Maid's Version, his brief but masterfully done novel, was on my Don't Return Home Without It list at Book Expo last spring. Alas, I came up empty-handed on that score--lots of Woodrell fans (the film Winter's Bone, with Jennifer Lawrence, was based on a Woodrell tale) at BEA.
But, thanks to a just-arrived review copy of the audio, I spent Saturday afternoon under the spell of Woodrell's memorable, tragic story: 42 citizens of a small town--including its most promising young folk--perish in a dreadful dance hall fire and explosion in 1929. Woodrell based his fictional rendition on an actual incident that occurred in 1928, resulting in approximately 30 deaths.
Four hours' worth of small-town intrigue (nice rural accents by the narrator, too) elapsed in a blur. I'm still thinking about that story with appreciation, melancholy scenarios and gory details included--and I find TV crime shows too disheartening to watch.
It's not just English-major respect for fine literary craftsmanship. It's the season. Along with the more obvious bounty of brisk air, family gatherings, and turning leaves, autumn carries an elegiac, somber sense of cyclical balance that humans probably require in regular doses, like vitamins.
Tragic episodes, like autumn, remind us what is important and what we're made of.
A survey of Book Movement ("The Insider's Guide to What Book Clubs are Reading Right Now") lists five great examples in its current Top 100--historical fiction and nonfiction--attesting to popularity of devastating themes: Allan Brennert's Molokai (leper colony); Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City (serial killings during Chicago World's Fair); debut author Hannah Kent's Burial Rites (accused murderer in Iceland); Jung Chang's Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (political regimes); Geraldine Brook's Year of Wonders (plague in 1666).
I can vouch for all five. But this selection was new to me: The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic. The title says it all. It's on order for the library.
Tragic stories aren't merely sad; literary definitions of "tragedy" include an element of human failing--moral weakness; character flaw; being overwhelmed by circumstance and demonstrating uncharacteristically poor judgment. Tragedies aren't so much rooted in evil as in humanity.
Consider these riveting real-life accounts from Round Rock Public Library's nonfiction shelves: Curse of the Narrows by Laura M. MacDonald (1917 Halifax explosion/tsunami/blizzard); City on Fire by Bill Minutaglio (1947 Texas City explosion); Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo; Gone at 3:17... by David M. Brown (New London, Texas, school explosion); Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson (Galveston hurricane); The Immortal Ten: The Definitive Account of the 1927 Tragedy... by Todd Copeland (train-bus collision in Round Rock).
All demonstrate that catastrophe elicits bravery, selflessness, and concrete measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. Amazing events, unforgettable lessons.
Wish someone had caught this on camera for Youtube.
Scene related by reliable witness: an attentive mother and two children (daughter a couple of years older than the son) indicated the selection of puppets available for checkout at the library. "Which one do you choose?" she asked both. The young man didn't wait for his sister's preference before declaring, "I want the one she wants!"
Was the little boy so certain of his sister's astute taste that he knew he'd covet her choice? Or is he, even at that tender age, already convinced of the joys of sharing? Does it matter?
Either way, the wisdom of children again illuminates adult life. Modeling oneself after an exemplar; enjoying communal experience--both are so rewarding.
Had it been published online, this scenario could have invited footnoting in consumer behavior studies. Trolling the library's Academic Search Complete database for the subject, you'd note how frequently terms like "confidence", "loyalty", "narcissism" and "dissatisfaction" describe content, along with the expected "market analysis", "green marketing", "brand", and so forth.
Product selection is as emotional as it is intellectual, partly because we're offered a mind-boggling array of choices. "I'll have what she's having" is a practical solution.
Word of Mouth Marketing or WOMM (which to me sounds like Luke Skywalker's lightsaber) doesn't just inhabit business literature. At the library, it's a favorite customer service strategy. The overwhelmed patron confronted with banks of shelving can note with relief our approachable book "towers" with a few hand-selected titles. If that month's topic proves not to be a favorite, at least it's clear that focus and assistance are obtainable. The reference desk slideshow of What We're Reading Now highlights a dozen or so options; we offer handout lists narrowed to recommended Christian fiction, Sci-Fi classics, critics' choices, readalikes, etc.
More library WOMM:
Fondly recalling a novel read years ago, the customer had wished to re-connect with it for a long time-- difficult without knowing title and author. "It's about a Confederate hero," she remembered, "actually, no, more about his wife...." That's all I needed to hear. I'd seen a review of Allan Gurganus' forthcoming Local Souls earlier this week, so his 1989 The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (I loved it, too) immediately came to mind. Anyone passing by the ref desk and hearing us gush about it received a massive dose of WOMM.
Hoping to locate the book inspired by Beth Terry's My Plastic Free Life blog, another patron was delighted to find Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can, Too available. She also recommended Rick Smith's Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things.
Customer enthusiasm for PBS' Call the Midwife series on DVD inspired a favorite viewing experience at my house. So here's a WOMM prompt for other Midwife fans fascinated by depictions of British life in the 1950s: David Kynaston's wonderfully informative Austerity Britain, 1945-51; Family Britain, 1951-1957; and Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59.
If you're a grownup (especially thirty-plus and a parent/guardian/aunt or uncle) you, too, may have savored a sandwich meal involving no sandwiches.
A recent lunch--if that's what you call chugging a homemade smoothie--found me checking emails on my iPad. My daughter had inquired about supplies for the curtains I was sewing for her; my mother reported that that the Etsy gift card we'd sent for her birthday was yielding mixed results (wonderful merchandise, yes; easy credit redemption process, no).
Ultimately, the curtains turned out as hoped; the Etsy snag was resolved and the desired product delivered. For those of us in the Sandwich Generation, these are
the problems we'd choose to sort out--happy ones, easily within one's capability.
Questions we're asked at the reference desk remind us that life in the Sandwich lane often involves weightier issues, such the one advised by U.S News & World Report's nursing home assessment, Medicare's Nursing Home Compare, and the Administration on Aging's Eldercare Locator. And the oft-heard "how can my son/daughter and I speak the same language and still not communicate?" can be addressed with, among other options, the annually eye-opening Beloit College Mindset List.
Sandwich people feel doubly responsible, but on good days we celebrate successes on two fronts.
Another bonus: tips and memorable anecdotes from two diverse vantage points. My daughter recommends films and apps that I wouldn't discover soon (or
ever). And as for the parent angle, you know how a chance remark can trigger the unspooling of a dramatic episode starring you but previously not on your radar screen due to your very young age when it occurred. Chatting with my mom recently, I observed that whooping cough is on the rise again. Her resulting memory suggests that I was one those rare children scarier as an infant than as a teen.
And that incident pales in comparison to distant ancestors' travails. As this Bloomberg article observes, the release of 1940 census information hasn't merely attracted researchers; it has created a volunteer bonanza. Because the initial census format is not generally searchable by name (yet), thousands of volunteers are assisting with indexing. Whether motivated by altruism or the chance of winning an iPad or Kindle, participants demonstrate massive multigenerational power.
Also at their best: favorite authors with new or soon-to-be-released family sagas. Philipp Meyer's The Son, termed "heartstopping", "magnificent", "stunning", "volcanic", and "masterly" by critics, also garnered raves from readers at last month's Barnes & Noble (Round Rock New Neighbors) book discussion. Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement (coming in November) rises to Tan's previous standard--high praise.
One of many readers who loved Leila Meacham's Roses and Tumbleweeds, I think that Meacham gets better with each new title (watch for Somerset, prequel to Roses in February). Jhumpa Lahiri's much-anticipated The Lowland will be released on September 24; The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), deemed "sweeping" and "rich", comes out in October. Jonathan Lethem's "illuminating" and "provocative" Dissident Gardens has just arrived at the library.
Why not represent the first generation in your clan to get your hands on these?
Suspense fiction fans love to encounter surprises and mystery in books they've chosen.
But not like this. Co-worker Carolyn handed me a still-new copy of a popular thriller, outlining the customer complaint: someone had taken it upon himself/herself to cross out and "revise" phrases throughout. Surprise!
Not that it matters, but the grammatical edits weren't even correct. And the mystery was, as Chip put it, "what would possess anyone to think that was a good idea?"
Still muttering over the disruptive markups, I spotted one of our regular customers strolling by the reference desk. What a great opportunity to share my little outrage!
But this patron hadn't received the Scribbling is Bad memo. He curiously flipped pages, assessed the inky text interruptions, and grinned. "I have to disagree", he shrugged, "Ever since Gutenberg, print has been one-dimensional and non-participatory. And now someone has made this copy interactive."
Fine. Customer approval always makes our day. But I still can't bring myself to equate a defaced library book with "interactivity"--especially when September, promising fall and its beloved festivities (even beyond football, I mean) is nearly here. Mingling in outdoor vistas, sampling new delicacies, marveling at creative talent: now that's interaction.
The State Fair of Texas opens this year on September 27. Check out SFT's timeline for an enlightening scan of innovations, celebrities, and organizational changes reflecting a microcosm of Texas life. But you'll have to wait until September 2 to learn whether deep fried versions of Nutella, Thanksgiving dinner, King Ranch casserole, or another crispy delight/cardiac health threat snagged this year's coveted Big Tex Choice Award.
This week's Scout Report sported--in addition to its always-impressive slate of educational links like Pew Internet's Infographics and American Biology Teacher--a feature devoted to that notorious annual phenomenon: the national buffet of state fair fried food specialties (try saying that three times fast).
Atlantic Wire's photo spread of trendsetting fair fare may leave you wondering how many more iterations of the corn dog are possible (also how you, too, can get your hands on Cocoa Cheese Bites). The Scout Report staff even highlighted this portal for state-fair-winning recipes. Compared to the Deep Fried Hot Dog Wrapped in French Fries, pie sounds like health food.
You should award Round Rock Arts Council's popular Chalk Walk (a feast for your eyes) a spot in your calendar for October 4-5. Texas Book Festival will crown the October 26-27 weekend. Stay tuned for soon-to-be-revealed announcements of author appearances and events, but you can go ahead and contribute to the cause or register to be an event volunteer now.
Even before these rewarding events, there's another chance to engage in a mass effort--remotely. Work From Home Day (9/10/13) challenges Austin-area esidents to improve air quality by "removing 20,000 cars from city roads" for one day. Round Rock Public Library's online resources stand ready to support our cardholders in that effort.
And, to prepare for the later festivities, why not accessorize your green telecommute with a verdant, leafy lunch?
That message had no business landing in work email in the first place. I would delete it, but it represents a career path of potential interest to the library's job seekers and vocational explorers.
OK, so I'm rationalizing; I kept it because it intrigues me personally.
Sent by Onlocation Casting, recruiting local extras for the NBC television series Revolution ("filming in Austin, TX and various surrounding areas") the notice asks us to publicize their casting call. Links (further details, Facebook page, an application) accompany the letter.
Applicants are encouraged to complete the form and cautioned not to pay for unnecessary "active" upgrades. I found that tip even more interesting than the promise of free snacks and references to other company projects: Friday Night Lights, Crazy Heart, Titanic.
But why would an introvert like me find this opportunity even remotely appealing?
Certainly not my prior film career: the highlight was a close-up on a local TV children's show years ago. The camera panning the row of seven-year-olds in Blue Bird vests caught my freckled nose and wide grin then devoid of two front teeth and zoomed in.
And last summer, what might be my shoulder is visible in audience sweeps on The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.
Aha. Now I remember the lure of "extra" work: behind-the-scenes access. For the price of waiting in several consecutive queues, I discovered how much smaller the Colbert set is in real life than it appears on television and how Colbert interacts out of character (just as funny, but really charming).
Studio audiences also see how glitches are managed. Singer Regina Spektor flubbed a couple of notes--she was the only one who thought so--and requested a do-over. The intro was repeated, the built-in time lag covered the re-shoot, and an apparently seamless musical segment was broadcast. But Spektor's grace under pressure and warmth lent our onsite perspective added value.
On a film set, in costume and in close proximity to actors, directors, and whatever unscripted goings-on transpire, an extra witnesses the good, the bad, and the ugly. For me, that (and the $8 per hour) would represent a nice payoff for filling out the application, waiting in more lines, and devoting a vacation day or two to the project.
Cinema fans who are Round Rock Public Library cardholders now have a new way to participate: RRPL's new Indieflix resource (accessible 24/7 with your library barcode) allows our patrons to stream thousands of independent films, including documentaries and shorts.
Because Indieflix was founded by filmmakers and assembles the best (or, as their FAQ page notes, "possibly the weirdest, depending on your taste") offerings from film festivals, you not only provide worthy productions with an audience, you help to fund future creations and innovations. IndieFlix shares revenues with filmmakers and even invites film submissions.
Important notes: (1) To view Indieflix for free as a cardholder, always start from the library's homepage to log in. (2) After you're "discovered" on the Revolution set or presented with a statuette for your film, please tell the Academy that you owe it all to the library!
Ah, summertime at the place across from the Main Street Plaza fountains. We're also known as Rocksssanne's home or the library, where incidentally, you can still enter the adult summer reading program if you hurry, and where we daily witness the joys of vacation time.
Joy, yes. Leisure, no.
Summer reading program stats for all ages are soaring. So, too, are mountains of materials to be checked in and re-shelved. More visitors with more genealogy questions, teachers happily loading up on books they typically don't have time to enjoy, young customers with hours to fill: all demonstrate why folks around here view the library as a top summertime destination.
We like to think that the vibe on the other side of the service counter feels relaxed. It appears so: flip-flips softly thunking as they convey patrons with bags of beach reads, smiling parents shepherding kids back out to the car, cognizant that the contents of the program just attended will be rehearsed all the way home.
A popular question these days concerns hours for the Main Street Plaza fountains. (Other timely, albeit less entertaining, water wisdom can be viewed on City of Round Rock's Water Conservation pages.)
We're never too busy to enjoy reactions of triumphant grownups scouting for the Pop-Up Prize sign with an accompanying giveaway at the reference desk. (Hint: This being the last week of Summer Readers' Bonanza, we're putting out more frequent freebies). Yesterday, a savvy reader spotted a prize from clear across the room and squealed, "Yesssss!" to the amusement of onlookers.
Water and prizes aren't the only elements appealing to one's inner child. Sharing (a year-round challenge) is a principle we encounter early on and never cease considering.
In a recent related chat, a library patron recommended a substantial policy change, then listened patiently while I extolled the values of the procedure in place.
The issue: study rooms. Check into a library study room (no reservations-first come, first served, one turn per day) and it's yours for an hour. That's the minimum; if no one else is waiting, you can stay on. But on high-traffic days, we'll need to re-assign the room as others queue up for a turn.
Given a population of over 100,000 and only five study rooms, this scheme works very well. The nicely-spoken gentleman agreed with nearly all of it.
The inconsistency he highlighted: some folks (if they're lucky and study room traffic dissipates after they check in), may get more than an hour. To be perfectly fair, he suggested, we should kick everyone out after their hour.
Acknowledging his excellent point, I explained that we've chosen to err on the side of chance and generosity, so that everyone gets fairness at minimum and will likely benefit from fairness-plus sometimes. Nobody ever claimed that sharing was easy.
The discussion ended pleasantly. It's easier to be gracious when you believe you're in the right (and we both did).
And perhaps we were subconsciously soothed by the distant splashing of the fountains...
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