Reader's Exchange

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

Boinnngggg.

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.

Think you've heard it all?

Quick: name the greatest country song of all time.

According to a Country Music Magazine poll, honors go to "He Stopped Loving Her Today" written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam and memorably performed by George JonesListen, and you'll understand its enduring popularity.

Country Music Hall of Famer and Kennedy Center honoree George Jones died earlier today at 81.George Jones record

Numerous sources cite how "changing tastes" diminished Jones' standing later in his career, but current performers frequently name him as a key influence.  And many of us still prefer our country music at the old-school end of the spectrum.   I'm personally unwilling to contradict CMT columnist Hazel Smith's contention that "country music is the one thing on this planet that is true". 

Though we all hear truth differently, we could probably agree that music's goal is to connect us to the experiences of others.

Some outstanding historical sheet music resources provide evidence that country music isn't alone in doing that--now or ever.  You can mine these virtual collections featuring digitally scanned documents (they even include cover artwork) for a sense of events, emotions, and trends in past eras.

Library of Congress' Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885 exhibits over 47,000 pieces of sheet music, including popular songs, choral music, band and orchestra selections.  Teachers and history buffs will enjoy the subject search--Andrew Jackson, steamboats, and the California Gold Rush, for example.

Sheet Music Consortium's aggregation of 22 respected sheet music collections includes 226,904 items and an impressive date range: 1830-1969.  Select "Browse" for searching options.  Also, since not all entries offer full content, it's a good idea to check the "View digitized content only" box.  "Across the Alley from the Alamo" (1947) and "Please Buy My Last Paper, I Want to Go Home" (1869) signal the range of treasures found here.

Our library's CD music collection of over 4,000 items includes some of the best of both worlds: significant core recordings--some historic--but also  and new and popular releases in response to customer tastes.  It's not unusual to hear patrons exclaim, "You have it!" when they've spotted a CD they wished for but didn't actually expect to find here.

We even have some books with sheet music.  Your best bet to locate them in the catalog, according to music collection developer Chris, is a title search for "songbook".

Added benefit of a library visit: live music.  Of course, you need to show up at the right time-during Monday Music on Main Street performances.  You'll hear the tunes as you walk toward the exits. 

You'll also see how much fun everyone else is having over there.  Why not stash a folding chair or two in your car on those evenings?   You'll be set to join the other folks converging on the Plaza with portable seating, beverages, and their own votes for greatest song of all time.

Pearls before Spam

"You know who June Cleaver is, right?" the library customer inquired, "You remind me of her, sort of put-together and calm."

So, June--AKA Barbara Billingsley in vintage TV's Leave it to Beaver--and I can both act.  At the reference desk, anyone may inquire about potentially any topic, while printers, computers, and other technologies develop glitches and tics.  Calmness would be the ideal mode, so if a low-simmering state of vigilance reads as such, all the better.

But who would aspire to June's crisp pearl-adorned, high-heeled perfection, anyway?  She dressed more elegantly to vacuum the carpet than most people currently do to attend weddings. 

Pearls, spike heels, and shirtdresses are trendy now, and so is June (still).   As shorthand for "unrealistic wifely/maternal role model in postwar America" Mrs. Cleaver has long served (as she did fresh-baked cookies for the boys and coffee for Ward) to instigate discussions of gender roles, consumer trends, historical accuracy.  Searching Academic Search Complete or Masterfile with "June Cleaver" as keyword, you'll find such articles as "And June Cleaver Seemed So Cheery" and "Shadows of Suburbia".

As we mark the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, the end of Hilary Clinton's term as Secretary of State, and the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, it's useful to know that Ms. Billingsley (94 when she died in 2010) was in fact a divorced working mother at the time she portrayed June.

According to American Decades online, in 1959, "two out of five women with husbands and school-age children worked outside the home."  Audiences knew even then that those 50s and 60s serenely stereotypical TV families didn't mirror reality.  Still, wasn't it agreeable to imagine, as parents increasingly juggled workplace and household, how it would be to live in houses that nice and have time to leisurely discuss a playground spat in the middle of the afternoon? 

Fabulous vintage Jell-OLaura Shapiro's Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America entertainingly considers how the food industry, gender expectations, and emerging food celebrities both reflected and changed America.  While one can't picture June purchasing a cake mix or serving Spam, Shapiro reveals how iconic products like those (and Jell-O!) signified cultural evolution.  You, too, may be prompted to get your hands on a copy of Peg Bracken's groundbreaking I Hate to Cook Book  (which the library has--50th  anniversary edition.)

All this household-level ferment occurred in tumultuous times chronicled by library resources, including The Fifties in America, The Sixties in America, Neil Sheehan's Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, and Marabel Manning's Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Getting back to June: what would she have read when she wasn't dusting the living room suite?  We guess that she'd choose some of the titles from the 1950s Fiction handout available at the Reference Desk.   Dare we speculate whether she'd have borrowed one of those trendy steamy romance trilogies if they'd been around in 1959?  Some shirtdresses featured nice paperback-sized pockets...

Very very very fine houses

This week, I found myself tracking former residences the way some people Google their old flames.

Leave 'em and love 'em: that's my motto.  Of a dozen former homes, we've owned two.  We were fond of them then, but they've acquired nostalgia value over time.  The soft focus of receding memory masks recollections of the porch roof diabolically engineered to layer six inches of ice on the steps below, not to mention the second-floor A/C unit that expired, soaking the ceiling, the day after we took possession. 

Memory isn't the only agent of flattery or enhancement.  Thanks to Google Earth, I just viewed the charming effects of a subsequent homeowner's generous budget and vision.  Reveling in its clever half-story to full-story metamorphosis and the perfect front door replacement, that property has manifestly not been mourning our departure. 

I'm pleased for the home and its inhabitants, for myself, too: Google Earth's street view revealed that a tree cutting with sentimental value I planted there in the late 1990s survived and is flourishing.

Property ownership and romantic partnerships can similarly delight or break your heart, broaden your horizons, and furnish evidence that the other party has prospered in terms of success and attractiveness after you've parted ways.

Cute bungalowDream bungalowAll houses are potentially historic--at least to you.  While the library isn't generally equipped with files of through-the-decades interior photos of local properties that we are sometimes asked for, we can share some engaging options for exploring property-related interests.

If the building in question existed a few decades ago in an area covered by Texas Digital Sanborn (Fire Insurance) Maps online, you can view its shape, proportion, and context (Was it next door to a livery stable, church, etc.?).

Our Historic Map Works resource offers graphical insights into both edifices and communities.  I love its slogan--"Residential Genealogy".  It's not just apt in perceiving what interests us amid bricks and shingles; it also suggests that, as in other aspects of family research, the odds of discovering what you hoped for are sufficiently uncertain as to guarantee jubilation when you succeed!

We continually discover informational gems regarding Round Rock's historic buildings in the Planning Department's Historic Preservation pages.  If your home is not officially historic (yet), you might be more interested in Planning's other offerings: Building Inspection and so forth.

If you love before-and-after scenarios, don't miss WhatWasThereFor numerous Round Rock locations (and some other cities and towns), you can adjust the Google Street View slider to fade back and forth from past and present.

And of course our book collection, with selections ranging from Green By Design, Bungalow Nation, Creating the Not So Big House to House to Ourselves: Reinventing Home Once the Kids are Grown, can inform and abet any questions, plans, or fantasies you may entertain about your abode.

My fantasy: to own a Craftsman Bungalow someday.  Not that I don't appreciate my 1980s two-story; we enjoy a wonderful neighborhood--and dry ceilings.

Note from IRS: Please direct creativity elsewhere

Though not yet filed, my tax documents are on track to easily fulfill the deadline.   Otherwise, there'd be reason for soul-clouding dread each time I visit irs.gov to help customers track down forms or tax tables.

No, happiness is the order of the day.  The four colorfully-clad individuals headlining Internal Revenue's homepage all bear smiling countenances ranging from pleased to downright giddy.  Taxes--nothing we'd rather chat about!

Contrast their pleasure with the black-and-white, sedate visages regarding you at the Academy of American Poets site.  And yet Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot would be delighted to learn of your interest in National Poetry Month: nothing I'd rather talk about today.

Among 30 Ways to Celebrate, the Academy recommends "attend a poetry reading".  The Baca Center's Great Books discussion group and Round Rock Public Library are co-sponsoring just such an opportunity, on April 16 at 1:00 in the library's meeting room B.  Imagine: you can celebrate compliance with the data-driven mandatory reporting of your tax share by nourishing your creative spirit.  You're invited to read a favorite poem (original or otherwise) or simply enjoy selections brought by others.Rain falling

If I can get away from the reference desk to attend, I'll bring a favorite from a former U.S. Poet Laureate.  However, this week's glorious rains did prompt me to scribble some haiku-like reflections.  These seasonal musings were expressed around my household--different voices, but all with attitude:

Admonition from the new rain barrel  sitting in our garage, as yet uninstalled

Lovely rain this week:
But not here, ‘midst cars and tools.
I missed my calling.


What will the neighbors think?

Audacious, mid-yard
A lone but soaring weed spear
stains our good repute.


My rain-hating dogs, when I directed them outdoors for a very good reason

In what universe
do you dream that we'd abet
your torrent-fraught scheme?


Leafing Crape myrtles, aspiring to a very good season       Budding crape myrtle

So disappointing:
Bluebonnets, this droughty year.
Well, just watch this space!


Pair of doves, minimally concerned with nest-building technique

Are you kidding us?
No empty hanging baskets?
Look--five nice twigs! Done!

A Texan a day...

Sam Bass is still causing trouble: the third request from out-of-towners for "the shootout map" (starring Mr. Bass in his final appearance) this week triggered my realization that March is done and I missed Texas Independence Day.

Visitors, bless ‘em, have shown more regard for Texas history than I have lately.

Perhaps if I were a fifth-generation Texas like my husband (I'm only fourth generation) my devotion would surface at less erratic intervals.  He checks in daily with the Texas State Historical Association's Texas Day By Day.

I may be subconsciously preventing schedule erosion by visiting this remarkable compendium less often.   Though immune to other digital lures--online gaming, serial Facebook updating--I am helpless in the face of so many links to pursue and can't resist roaming beyond TSHA's daily offerings to explore further.  

You'd be amazed at the variety of lore chronicled therein.  Not a native?  All the more reason to acquaint yourself with Three-Legged Willie, The Light Crust DoughBoys, "Ma" Ferguson, Bring ‘Em Back Alive Buck,  Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Ima Hogg.

Life in other states may not have promoted knowledge of what transpired when the Chilympiad barred women from competing or when the U.S. War Department shipped camels to Texas. The Texas movie poster

But you'll encounter frequent references to The Other 49.  One can't be faulted for being born elsewhere.  We gladly claim "naturalized" Texans who arrived later and notably achieved:  Walter Cronkite, Norah Jones, Emmitt Smith, golf guru Harvey Penick, Sandra Bullock, Dr. Phil....

Electric guitar pioneer Charlie Christian was a native, as were Roy Orbison, Van Cliburn, Ornette Coleman, and too many other influential artists to name.  Bandleader/Governor/Senator Pappy O'Daniel demonstrated (as have others since) that in Texas politics and entertainment are, if not indistinguishable, definitely intertwined.

TSHA affords juicy gossip:  Pennsylvania-born Anna Raguet inspired Sam Houston to (once he'd been elected President of the Republic) expedite the divorce suit against his first wife.  Ms. Raguet allegedly found the proceedings off-putting and married Houston's secretary of state instead.

As for adventure:  Rebecca Gilleland Fisher, captured by Comanches who killed her parents, was subsequently rescued.  She later became a charter member of the DAR and aided in saving the Alamo from destruction.   Medal of Honor recipient John Cary Morgan, whose achievement was fictionalized in the movie Twelve O'Clock High, didn't merely take over his B-17's controls when the pilot was shot; he had to fly with one hand and stave off the "crazed" pilot with the other.

And nowadays, as we contemplate a diminished Post Office presence, the loss of stagecoach mail and passenger service (March 1, 1861; the route was relocated north out of Texas) resonates, doesn't it?

John Steinbeck observed that, "Like most passionate nations, Texas has its own history based on, but not limited by, facts."   TSHA's trove of data in Handbook of Texas Online defies fiction to invent anything so colorful.

But it's still OK to speculate, as Tex Ritter did:  "They say that Virginia is the mother of Texas.  We never knew who the father was, but we kinda suspected Tennessee."

Here's your hat; what's your story?

Like all parents, I ponder the Generational Divide some days more than others.  And this week?  Well, it occurred to me that J.K. Rowling's great gift to humankind--the Sorting Hat--might represent the issue nicely.  If the hat assigned generational membership, it might still consider age, but it would also pose a question:  Which do you value more: representing yourself as a unique individual or deriving comfort from commonalities with others?

A solid member of the latter cohort, I've learned that special-ness comes at a price, as when the doctor, car repairer, roofer, or computer technician exclaims, "Wow, you almost never see that!"  

We prove every day that informational resources at the library can match the sudden need for material on a newly prescribed diet, relationship miscue, or DIY assignment.  And the most marvelous aspect of such guidance is the fact that it exists at all.  Its availability reinforces one's inclusion in good company.  Others have faced this situation, too!

But leave it to fiction to venture beyond mere answers, thus bridging across generations.  Novels invite interpretation colored by the reader's background.  Andre Dubus' engrossing House of Sand and Fog, for example, deals with home ownership but ultimately suggests more questions than answers with attendant emphases on prejudice and character.  Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Jane Green's Another Piece of My Heart, and Rebecca Coleman's Heaven Should Fall  are all "domestic fiction" but illustrate vividly disparate permutations of family crises.  They appeal to readers of both types, those intuiting personal connection and those intrigued by the possibilities.

Other novels explore plots thankfully far outside average experience for any age or outlook.  Debut author Kimberly McCreight's Reconstructing Amelia (available in April) and Kevin Powers' award-winning The Yellow Birds imagine, based on the authors' knowledge, darker scenarios involving school bullying, intrigue, and personal tragedy in the first instance and the Iraq war in the second.

Lynda Rutledge's book coverAuthor of Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale  Lynda Rutledge was on hand at the Round Rock New Neighbors book discussion group (they meet at the La Frontera Barnes & Noble) earlier this week.  Her story visits five generations of a prominent small-town Texas family, none of which communicate adequately with the others or relate in the same fashion to the valuable possessions accumulating in the family mansion.  Acknowledging one plot angle particularly enjoyed by the group, Ms. Rutledge confessed her delight in having furnished readers information that even the characters didn't know.

Now that's an approach with universal appeal, further demonstrating fiction's powers of inclusion.

And in that vein I have to share a curious facet about another well-received novel from the past year, Ben Fountain's National Book Critics Circle winner Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.   Checking its availability at RRPL, I spied in its record  a subject heading I don't recall encountering previously:  "Football & War".  Generational membership aside, to appreciate its aptness you just might need to be a Texan.

Oh, don't be so modest (just be accurate)

The customer isn't always right.  On those rare occasions, it's fortunate if someone else has already said so. 

That's what happened with the recent job hunter who slid his resume across the reference desk, sighed, and related his situation.  After applying three times to an area employer with zero response, he was finally (and constructively) informed by an HR staffer: "You will never get hired with that resume."

Strong words, I thought, curious to see what could be so off-putting.  Answer: everythingInconsistent spacing and bulleting, clashing fonts, and grammatical errors immediately lowered the reader's opinion of the applicant--but at least they distracted from the content.

Chunks of text appeared to have been excerpted randomly from an in-house training manual.  Descriptions of positions and responsibilities failed to cohere or to register a logical career progression.  Instead of crisply proclaiming, "Here's how my experience and capabilities can benefit your company!" this resume shrugged, "Here's two pages of stuff..."Making the selection

No one would match that document with the well-spoken, promising candidate at the desk; I agreed that the resume misrepresented him.  Satisfied with the consensus of the Complete Rewrite camp, the patron cheerfully agreed, "I'm totally on board."  Then he added, "It just needs to be quick."

Uh-oh.  A competitive, from-scratch resume isn't a reference question; it's project--a serious one with a potentially life-changing payoff. 

It's not the writing that's labor-intensive; it's the conceptualizing:  selecting the words to prove that you're the choice among potentially hundreds; finding phrases to convey both hard experience and openness to learning opportunities.  Sometime you also need to compensate for gaps resulting from relocating for your spouse's job, caring for family, the economy. 

Hiring a resume expert is one solution, but where's the challenge (and savings) there?  Using library resources, you could promote yourself better than anyone else can.

I showed the customer our array of resume guides; one even featured makeovers.  ResumeMaker online could enable him to produce a professional-looking document, as would Job & Career Accelerator.  And a colleague and I both quickly scanned his pages to share our first impressions.  (I've read that first perusals commonly last ten seconds or less before submitted resumes are designated "discard" or "consider".)

You're wise to keep abreast of current resume style trends, too: 

  • Strive for 1-2 pages in length (more realistic than the strict one-page model).
  • Jettison the "References on request" line; that's a given.
  • Envision your resume as a portal: provide links to your online publications, web page, LinkedIn (then keep these features updated).
  • Consider featuring an accolade from a supervisor, client, etc. (quotation similar to blurbs on a book jacket).
  • Drop the Objective statement, which can appear old-fashioned or limiting. Instead, compose a "headline" to snag readers' attention.
  • Customize each resume to echo when possible the same keywords used in that job posting. The initial reader may be a scanning program, not a human.

As always, rely on your knowledge of each employer to determine how edgy your style for that document should be.  If possible, use multiple proofreaders to catch those little missteps before submitting your finished product; unless you're entering a bake-off, no one wants to read that you're a "roll model".

The quality of mercy

Not an ardent reader of Science Fiction, I approach it like a child lectured that eating vegetables is a Good Thing and should be undertaken frequently: I'm always glad afterward but rarely pursue the experience.

Predictably, when an advance copy of Ariel Djanikian's The Office of Mercy arrived among some historical fiction, chick-lit, and literary titles, I picked up everything else first.  But then my Sci-Fi Deficiency instinct kicked in, and I scanned the cover more closely.  Sold! 

It was the creepy eye that fascinated me.  Strategically set in the foreground and encased in metal, it regarded me with a glazed, shattered look from an incongruous forest glade lit from above with eerie green shafts: definitely an Orwellian vibe.   

Office of Mercy graphicThen, imagine my chagrin when, post-reading, I realized that the eyeball is a helmet with a shattered lens.  For me, the lexicon of cover art graphics would suggest that helmet=classic sci-fi; eyeball=psychological or dystopian fiction.  So let's call my error prescient; The Office of Mercy actually is dystopian.  That's great news for Hunger Games fans. 

Through the eyes of 24-year-old Natasha Wiley, readers absorb the sophistication and logic of life in America-Five, one of several domed communities dotting the map in the post-Storm world.  As with the best of dystopian lit, the tone compels one to begin questioning the leaders' self-proclamation of utopian existence even before evidence to the contrary materializes.  I enjoyed reading that, despite lofty posturings of ethical intent and carefully honed priorities, teams from the various Americas continually compete for population and "sweep" statistics.  Some things never change. 

America-Five's most solid claim to superiority:  it has a library.   While other communities were buttressing their structures and gathering seed, livestock, and scientific supplies in advance of the Storm, only America-Five's directors had the vision to stockpile information:  books, digitized data, paper records.   Eventually (this will not surprise librarians, educators, and city officials everywhere) the realization dawned that manuals for moral instruction and simulators for entertainment and schooling just weren't enough. 

Citizens craved more:  access to information "beyond what the individual memory could retain".

In the sleek, gadgety community--vertically stacked grain cultivation, labs stocked with genetically tailored replacement parts, textiles that regenerate when torn--the library boasts a couple of low-tech but much appreciated features:  comfy plush chairs and soundproof conference rooms. 

Hmmmm.  We're frequently lobbied to acquire those things now.  Some things never change.

I selfishly wish that Ms. Djanikian would pen another story (The Office of Mercy is on our March order list), this time starring the library.  Our staff could propose innovations to maximize its appeal: 

  • Keyboards and workstations that self-sanitize after each logout
  • Study rooms that morph to accommodate 2 to 20 people without changing the footprint of the space
  • Window blinds that allow all the natural light into the building despite being closed by the single reader sitting in front
  • Even more plush chairs and soundproof rooms

    Not that we deserve creativity points; we've just been listening to our customers.
Some like it hot

Yes, I'm overthinking this.  Chances are that if a city official or Michelle, our library director (or anyone else) happened by the reference desk when I said that, they wouldn't consider it strange or inappropriate. 

I'm still going to disregard that professional advice.  But the Library Journal article was quite useful otherwise. Acknowledging the massive popular response to trilogies by E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Sylvia Day (Crossfire series), the author surveyed the history of "hot romance" and "erotic romance" books, offering suggestions for further reading, strategies to determine what readers want, how to find credible review sources, etc.

Observing that everyone has preferred styles or emphases and that some readers always choose the sexier stories, the author advised: "My favorite way of determining this criterion is by asking, ‘How hot do you like it ?' "

Well, that question immediately flunked my Something I Would Ever Say at the Reference Desk test.  But the point is certainly valid.  Maybe I could propose a theoretical 1-10 scale where 1 is something you'd read aloud to your grandmother, and so forth.Clown teapot

Not that any amount of care would guarantee 100% professional behavior on my part.  Recently, helping a customer who needed a cache of funny one-liners for a performance project, I ended up laughing along with her--a lot, and too loudly. Poor role modeling for the Quiet Floor, but those bits were first-quality comedy. Humor truly does affect us like a tonic.

Just thinking about that episode puts me in such fine spirits that I've thought of two ways to share the happiness:

First, for E.L. James fans, here are suggestions for other authors whom you may enjoy and whose books are available at the library (thanks to Sylvia Day's expertise for this information):  Lora Leigh, Lauren Dane, Shayla Black, Jaci Burton, Shannon McKenna, Emma Holly, Maya Banks.

Second, I'll remind humor fans that you can pinpoint some wonderful reads just by typing "parody" or "parodies" or "satire" in the Catalog Quick Search box on the library's home page.  Your finds will run the gamut from classic to edgy:
 

  • The Complete Stories of Dorothy Parker (audiobook)
  • Spoofs! (Sesame Street, DVD)
  •  Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (DVD)
  • Goodnight iPad 
  • The Da Vinci Cod by Don Brine or The Dick Cheney Code by Henry Beard
  • Comedian Chris Elliott's The Shroud of the Thwacker
  • The Girl with the Golden Bouffant (from the Jane Bond series by Mabel Maney)
  • Don't Mess with Travis by Bob Smiley
  • Snobs by Julian Fellowes
  • Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of the Planet Earth
  • The Politics of Barbecue by Blake Fontenay

And let's not forget The Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin.

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