Reader's Exchange

May the choice be with you

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 Lunchbox with lightsabersbusiness 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.

Betwixt and between

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 assessmentMedicare'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. 

1940 Census posterAnd 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?

This post is not cardiologist-approved

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.
Texas Star ferris wheel
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?

Extra! Extra! Read all about it

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. 

Film clapper boardApplicants 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!

No time (or reason) for summertime blues

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.

Flip-flipsWe 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... 

Please, thank you, and mine!

Ever worked a customer service desk?  Then you're familiar with the Conflicted or I Hate to Bother You, But... Complaint.  This nice library patron was even conflicted about the reason.

With hands apart, palms up (the universal "this is probably futile" signal), she reported that a clearly audible cell phone chat from two rows back had jolted her out of fiction-browsing mode.

Mind you, this was on second floor, AKA The Quiet Floor.  As if being reluctantly cast in the role of tattletale weren't enough, the customer couldn't decide which seemed more unfair: the interruption or the extreme non-urgency of the conversation.   

The disturbance, we agreed, was unfortunate--also unintentional.  Those tall shelving units look awfully substantial, perhaps capable of preventing sound transmission.   But not even in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section do collected volumes assume Sonic Deflection Shield capability.

If such issues don't resolve themselves quickly (which happened even as we discussed this one), a gentle reminder does the trick.  It's easy to forget that cell phoning isn't appropriate everywhere.  

Our customers tend to be demonstrably polite, evidenced by responses to our Summer Readers' Bonanza.  We offer several "pop-up prizes" each week at the reference desk.  At random intervals and without fanfare, the "It's a Pop-up Prize!" sign appears on the reference desk with a book or bag from Book Expo America

Whoever spots the prize first may take it.  (Think of the King Arthur legend:  you're Arthur and the prize is Excalibur. Go for it.)Disney King Arthur and Excalibur

We've been surprised to see library customers look right past the sign and charmed to witness folks who see it but can't bring themselves to take the prize.  Some customers track back and forth a time or two.   They might stop, gingerly touch the item, then replace it, needing the assurance of a staffer's smile, nod, or thumbs-up before claiming it.

Also, there's this:  Unlike the King Arthur story, our prizes aren't pre-ordained for accessibility only to the perfect match. 

Some pop-ups ultimately claimed by ecstatic winners were first caught and released by well-mannered readers rightly viewing them as Not My Type.  The man who spied Sylvia Day's Entwined With You briefly surveyed the contents, commenting, "some woman will be thrilled to have this; I'll leave it for her."  What a gentleman.  And he was correct. 

To demonstrate that I, too, was raised right, I brought back my advance copy of Charles Belfoure's The Paris Architect (mentioned last week, now finished) for pop-up sharing.  Unlike the other pristine giveaways, it's had one reader but is a terrific find for grown-up readers of both genders. 

Some upcoming pop-ups might be deemed "chick books", but we'll also offer  DK's The Conquest of the Ocean, Filip Bondy's Who's on Worst: The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes in Baseball History; Don J. Snyder's Walking with Jack: A Father's Journey to Become His Son's Caddie; Robert Boswell's Tumbledown; James R. Hannibal's Shadow Catcher; and Michael Paterniti's The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese.

And it would be downright rude not to mention this "Books for Dudes" list from Library Journal Online.

Liberty, Equality, Veterinary

Last week was a vacation--and not.  True, I was immersed in three vacation-y pursuits: inspiring view; regimen of pampering/rejuvenation; even a whimsical lapse of judgment best second-guessed in retrospect.

Translation: I didn't go anywhere.  Activities included re-doing the sewing/exercise/whatever room and coordinating prescriptions, care, and vet visits for a post-operative Scottie dog. 

And my Big Regret was deciding a while back that pet insurance would be advisable but not actually signing up for it.  (We've considered re-naming the patient Princess Cruise.)

On the plus side, Kenna, our little terrier, is again bouncing around, striking fear into squirrels' hearts--also behaving as a poor but fun role model for Robert, our larger, moodier Scottie.  The made-over room looks wonderful; I haven't skipped a day on the elliptical machine since the place took on a classier tone. 

Luckily, a library copy of Edward Rutherfurd's new 800-page Paris: The Novel turned up just in time for the week off.  What is vacation if not the chance to consume several hundred pages at a time without sacrificing a night's sleep? 

All of which resulted in clarity about future vacations. Rutherfurd's latest saga accomplished what Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon, Diane Johnson's Le Divorce, and numerous other excellent novels and accounts of life in Paris only tempted me to do.  Post-Rutherfurd, I'll finally confess my latent ambition to be Yet Another Paris Tourist. Souvenir snow globe

Admittedly, moving Paris to the top of the wish list earns one zero points for originality.  And those clichéd images of the Eiffel Tower, baguette-toting natives, the Belle Epoque lamp posts?  Yes, they're ultra-commercial.  But those ubiquitous graphics powerfully evoke the spectrum of individual interests in Paris: history, architecture, cuisine, fashion, performing arts, graphic arts, religion, politics...

As with Sarum, New York, London, etc., Rutherfurd unfurls an ambitious tapestry of several centuries' urban evolution.  The threads, individual characters of varying classes, strive for the best possible existence as they currently discern it.  But only you, the reader, can perceive the ultimate pattern, whole-cloth evidence that some ancestors' dreams were not worth pursuing.  Other forebears die convinced of having lost a struggle in which their descendants eventually triumph.  Endurance is the key.

There's nothing like a big-picture historical saga to bestow appreciation for the relative insignificance of one's own obstacles or ambitions.  These epics also portray the advance of progress founded on small but persistent increments of goodwill and creativity.

View Paris' Roman ruins and churches, and you're reminded that cultures succeed or not on both merit and adaptability.  Hop on the Eiffel Tower's elevator, and you're conveyed aloft a structure originally designed for showstopper visual appeal and meant to last twenty years.  

Over 100 years later, hordes of visitors are confidently making that ascent. 

I wouldn't hesitate, either.  Until then, I'll recommend Goodreads' Books About Paris list.  In October, watch for Charles Belfoure's The Paris Architect.  I'm reading the advance copy of this intriguing historical fiction/thriller set in German-occupied Paris--and already added it to the library's order list. 

Triple-digit scores for trio

Oh, good.  The annual Triple Digit Temperature Anticipation is over.  We can proceed to more vital topics, say, air conditioning and novels. 

On weekends when I interrupt yard work at intervals to duck inside for a hat or water, to check on the dogs or whatever (because overtly preventing heat exhaustion sounds wimpy) I appreciate the cool respites.  I also resent adding minutes to the completion timeline.

Only when finished do I allow myself to open one of those tempting ARCs from Book Expo America

Compelling novels and AC are optimizers of sorts.  Climate control sustains us so we accomplish more; great stories broaden our experience so we understand each other better.

And these three just-read forthcoming picks are superior; I recommend them for richly developed characters and distinctive points of view.   They're for grownups, particularly the latter two:

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (October 1), observes its most revelatory scenes not in iconic terrain (it's set in Australia) but in contemporary urban venues--academic conferences, restaurants, apartment balconies, habitats of brilliant thirtysomething genetics professor Don Tillman.   Don (Big Bang Theory fans, think Sheldon), variously termed "almost robotic", "socially inept", and "awkwardly charming", appears capable of greater interpersonal sensitivity, but even he would set that bar low.

Unlike Sheldon, Don has prioritized the acquisition of a life partner.  The obvious approach (if you're Don):  precisely calibrated criteria packaged in a lengthy application--The Wife Project.  Ah, romance.

Don's unvarnished (and oft-mistaken) impressions are relayed in terms meeting his high standards for factuality--and yours for poignancy and comedy.

Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement (November 5) also views proceedings indoors--at first: the elegant confines of a courtesan establishment.  At BEA, Tan sharedScenic vista in China the story's genesis:  her discovery that the ensemble worn by her grandmother in a favorite photo matched styles in pictures documenting turn-of-the-century Chinese courtesans. 

Tan's latest revisits themes prized in The Joy Luck Club:  legacies of mothers and daughters, resourcefulness and persistence in the face of transplantation, explorations of ethnic identities and boundaries.  Spanning fifty years from San Francisco to Shanghai, Valley fascinates even before it ventures outdoors into truly amazing territory.

Charles Palliser's Rustication (Nov. 4) involves none of the calm, bucolic, self-directed existence you'd expect.  This Gothic with a Capital G tale denotes the more specific (British) term for suspension from school.  In the mid-1860s, 17-year-old Richard Shenstone finds himself "rusticated" from Cambridge (sadly, not his chief worry).  Having learned of his father's death via the newspaper--though mother and sister are alive and well and could have written--he's entertaining apprehensions about what and why he wasn't told more. 

Arriving "home" to his family's recent relocation, a dank, creaking outpost whose closest neighbor is a quagmire (literally), Richard encounters villagers seething with gossip and ill will, a depraved series of threatening letters, and all manner of unwholesome goings-on.

Poor Richard has no idea whom to believe, nor will you.  Your only recourse is to keep reading...

Solid proof that readers are winners

Guess what we figured out?  People of all ages appreciate free stuff (interesting, high-quality free stuff).  Who knew? 

The library's youth summer reading programs have long been identified with favorite performers, activities, story times.  Oh, and prizes, prizes, prizes. 

Adults, we reasoned, didn't require as much incentive to read.    

We weren't incorrect.  We hear daily about our grownup customers' impressive reading portfolios.  However, they are busy people.  Taking time to document preferences and list which library activities and databases they find relevant--that's what demands recognition AKA prizes.

We now have really nice drawing prizes (two words: iPad Mini) for our Brain Food campaign for adult cardholders.  Our Summer Readers' Bonanza (which all grownups can enter, regardless of cardholder status) features an enviable drawing prize and several spontaneous giveaways each week through August 5.   Acquisition of these perks was achieved thanks to Friends of the Round Rock Public Library, the good fortune of collecting publicity items at Book Expo America, and the aid of publishers (a box of new giveaway donations, including Inferno, arrived from our Random House rep just yesterday.  Thanks, Robert!). 

We acknowledge the irony of this lesson.  Who in Round Rock enjoys closer proximity to the latest books and articles on motivation?  Even if we were tardy in making the adult reader-prize connection, we knew all along that this topic, particularly relating to the workplace, greatly interests local business owners, managers, and savvy employees.

A quick search of the library catalog with "motivation" or "employee motivation" yields so many titles that everyone will relate personally to one: The Power of Consistency: Prosperity Mindset Training...; The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace; The Wisdom of Bees: What the Hive Can Teach Business about Leadership and Growth; The 20% Doctrine: How Tinkering, Goofing Off, and Breaking the Rules at Work Drive Success in Business; All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results; and many more.

You can mine current articles about motivation from our online resourcesMasterfile, Academic Search Complete, Business Source Complete, for starters.

I haven't encountered a motivational trend yet that couldn't claim merit to some degree.  But these approaches are numerous and frequently contradictory.   No wonder commercial wall art illustrating easily-recalled nuggets of encouragement sells so briskly; adhering to a personal mantra enables one to assimilate the best of the best.

But why purchase a slogan when World Book Encyclopedia and popular culture already yield these gems? Empty frames on wall

  • Oklahoma state motto: "Labor conquers all things."
  • North Carolina: "To be, rather than to seem."
  • For anyone whose work culture operates in a continual state of flux, consider Connecticut's motto: "He who is transplanted still sustains."
  • Classic C&W song "The Gambler": "You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em..."
  • Bumper sticker for Longhorn Rentals: "Roll with us."

Finally, from the theme song on the Crazy Heart soundtrack:  "This ain't no place for the weary kind.  This ain't no place to lose your mind..."

Heaven and Hell's Kitchen

"Such an amazing place," the customer observed dreamily.  "But I don't suppose I could ever get in." 

Nice to know that the Book Expo America photos I posted online conveyed the energy and special-ness of the event--noted authors by the score, acclaimed presenters, book giveaways, direct access to publishers.  But (except for the new Power Readers option on the last day) you must be in the book trade to get in.

"For a serious reader," I confided to the library patron, "BEA is pretty much like Heaven." 

I should note that BEA's venue, the Javits Center, lies solidly within the confines of Hell's Kitchen (explanations for the district's name abound).  Newer appellations for the area--"Clinton" or "Midtown West"--just sound namby-pamby, don't they?

My accommodations were also located in HK.  Frankly, I reveled in the opportunity to begin each day descending 51 floors by elevator, thanking the doorman for his aid (God forbid I should have to open the door), scooting into the Starbucks next door, and embarking on a ten-minute stroll to Javits with my favorite sissy beverage.

But somehow, claiming that I daily traversed half of the breadth of Hell's Kitchen on foot--alone--still sounds a little tough.  Grit credit would be as undeserved as my dumb luck in having lovely relatives with a spiffy Manhattan condo. 

But good fortune doesn't count toward Heaven.  And a few other aspects of BEA align with the earthly realm, as well:

BEA bag logoYou can take it with you. You have to; of all the amenities offered by the huge convention center, none include secure, free places to leave your handbag or briefcase while you stuff tote bags with advance copies and other swag. You'll juggle three or four carryalls and the iPad or smartphone you're using to snap photos. If your arms aren't stretched a couple of inches longer after a day at BEA, you're just not trying.

Controversy is encouraged (if it's literary). Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky drew spontaneous applause several times during the Poetry Opens Doors panel discussion. His most memorable observation was provoked by earnest suggestions from librarians exhorting others to "push" poetry at every conceivable opportunity (e.g., displays at checkout stations in the manner of National Inquirer stacks at the grocery checkout). Pinsky objected, challenging the notion that poetry is "something to take care of as if it were sick."

Covetousness is (if not admired) part of the fun. Tote bags are serious business at BEA (check out one clever blogger's 2013 BEA Book Bag Awards--June 3).  At some point, most attendees succumb to Bag Envy. The array of distinctive giveaways--massive red leatherette carriers, elegant black Hobbit bags adorned with a stylized dragon (I got one; it's a summer drawing prize), limited edition carryalls channeling LL Bean--is noteworthy. Even when you've acquired enviable bags yourself, your eye wanders to The One That Got Away.

Round Rock Public Library's Summer Readers' Bonanza begins Monday, June 17 (details available then), and you, too, might claim one of our divine BEA swag giveaways!

Sharing: an Empire State of mind

I don't have a photo of Dr. Ruth on my phone.  But the gentleman behind me in the Sue Grafton autograph line at Book Expo America (New York City, last week) does.  He'd spotted her in the cavernous Javits Center exhibit hall, asked if she could spare a minute, and--voila!  (See my celeb photos on the library's Facebook page.)

Before we could share other sightings (Elizabeth Gilbert, Diana Gabaldon, Nathaniel Philbrick, Mo Willems, Julianne Moore, Amy Tan, Susan Mallery, Sylvia Day, Lemony Snicket, Tim Conway, David Baldacci, Paul Harding, Jonathan Lethem, Bill Bryson, (even Grumpy Cat), and dozens of other notables made appearances) Ms. Grafton breezed in ahead of schedule.   Assessing the enormity of her queue, she checked in at her booth before embarking on a whirlwind tour of the line to greet all, especially those who'd be standing for the foreseeable future.   She charmed all present and equipped us with enviable volumes (W is for Wasted won't be out until September.)

Empire State BuildingWhy would publishers distribute freebies that the recipient now doesn't have to purchase and even risk major spoiler potential? 

Libraries aren't the sales-killers you might imagine.  When librarians render enthusiasm for forthcoming books, and when libraries offer access that builds interest in an author, title, or series--everybody profits.  And we respect our readers too much to divulge what we shouldn't.  (But it's OK to hint that Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement--due out in November--is worth the wait.)

When I sent my daughter a photo of an epic queue threading around the ground floor, up the escalator, and onto the show floor, she responded, "So, is it pretty much like a Con except with fewer people dressed as Jedis?"

Probably.  But BEA attendees likely demonstrate more consideration than most, and the rumors are more frequently substantiated--Diana Gabaldon's contract for an Outlander TV series, Brad Pitt's production of the TV drama based on Jason Mott's The Returned.  I bagged an autographed advance copy of The Returned, published by Harlequin, due out in September, and expected to generate major buzz.

And speaking of consideration:  choosing Ann Romney's autograph line meant missing out on Helen Fielding's session.   But Ann arrived 25 minutes early and instantly settled in to chat with readers and sign pamphlets.   Thanks to her solicitude, some of us could meet and photograph both authors--and be doubly impressed.

Book giveaways (limited quantities, first come-first served) I was especially gratified to snag include Jessica Stilling's Betwixt and Between (said to be "The Lovely Bones meets Peter Pan"), Elizabeth Kelly's The Last Summer of the Camperdown, Elinor Lipman's I Can't Complain, Lee Smith's Guests on Earth and poet Billy Collins' latest,  Aimless LoveBut then those copies of Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, Bill Bryson's One Summer: America, 1927, and A. Scott Berg's Wilson are calling to me, as well.

Next time, I'll post more details about upcoming library prize and giveaway opportunities for exciting BEA books and swag (because librarians always share).

We may even overthink that whole fairness thing.  Late Thursday afternoon, the young librarian just ahead of me sighed exhaustedly, revealing that she had one more "duty" line before calling it a day.  She'd promised a co-worker a particular autographed Romance book.

I had that very book in my bag and believed it to be replaceable the next day.  So I offered it to her.  She brightened for a moment, asked, "Are you sure!?" and began to reach for it.  Then her Sense of Obligation kicked in, and she shook her head mournfully.  "I just couldn't," she confessed.  "I've got to earn it."

Butch Cassidy and the Goblet of Fire

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

It's about film quality, really. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go ahead, make...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support your local EM


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not that you asked...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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