I should appreciate my colleagues in City of Round Rock's Communications division more. Sure, they've been kind and supportive of this blog all along, but now it appears that they've been bravely fostering a risky venture. Consider the case of a university librarian in Canada who's being sued for 3.5 million dollars.
The librarian in question, who initiated his blog for his students' benefit, describes that content as "mostly about my random thoughts on libraries, the media, and so forth". The controversial entry (later un-posted) concerns a publisher whom he allegedly deemed "dubious", judging some of the company's academic books to reflect "second-class scholarship".
As a fellow librarian blogger with similarly random content and a decent-but-not-spectacular readership, I commend his intentions. Like you, I'm a taxpayer. Anyone charged with spending funds on books and other acquisitions, as public librarians are, aims to gratify the audience's needs and interests and not expend dollars on unworthy materials. Expert opinions are essential, but a single one isn't going to rule the day.
Happily for me, I work with fiction, that wonderful and subjective universe which grants value for reasons beyond factuality or currency. An author who's been pilloried by the critics may be adored by the book-buying (and library-going) public. In the same afternoon we might overhear one patron grumble that he can't understand why the library would waste money and shelf space on Author So-and-So's "fluff" only to note another customer lamenting the interval before Author So-and-So's forthcoming installment.
Evidence that fiction offerings don't escape evaluation, the reviews I relish most involve less than flattering pronouncements. Reviewers devote especial creativity to those, as in the assessment of "too much wuthering, too few heights" or "extends the hackneyed into the realm of the ridiculous". Should I ever publish a novel myself, frankly I'd prefer a "what was she thinking?" reception over the tepid "somewhat enjoyable" verdict rendered in one of this week's reviews. Ouch.
Along with professional reviews, publisher marketing, forecasting at events like Book Expo America, social media, and bestseller lists, librarians heed customer preferences, even when our patrons disagree among themselves.
Last Monday, a purchase request for Cora Harrison's Chain of Evidence landed in my email. "You already have all of her previous books, and they are wonderful," the requester commented. "Please purchase it!"
We certainly will. Cora Harrison isn't a high-demand name here (yet), but her Tudor-era mysteries set in western Ireland are gaining a following. If you try and appreciate Ms. Harrison's series, you'd probably also savor comparable works by M.J. Trow, Cassandra Clark, Peter Tremayne, Priscilla Royal, and C. J. Sansom.
And then you can alert me should the library experience a series gap that should be remedied or updated. While attorneys parse one librarian's opinion, we're glad to focus on what readers think.
If a significant artifact on the order of Richard III's skeleton is ever unearthed around here, I like to believe that the find wouldn't instigate an internationally publicized squabble between,say, Round Rock and Pflugerville. Emotions run high when honor and tourism are at stake. Couldn't Leicester and York both benefit from returning the remains to York for burial? Leicester could focus on a visitor center chronicling the dig and discovery; York could promote the burial site: traffic neatly distributed, two revenue-generating gift shops.
In truth, the controversy does appear to center on finer feelings of loyalty and respect for the dead. York gets my vote. The king had established happier connections there--childhood spent in the region, visits to the city, etc.--whereas Leicester signifies the venue to which his corpse was carted, post-battle, to be hastily stowed for eternity in a grave too short to accommodate his height.
One could argue that if Richard III deserved half the notoriety attributed to him since his demise (no one's actually proven that he had his nephews killed...) entombment under an eventual parking lot would be about right. However, the king has a considerable body of defenders (and not just the Richard III Society). Just serves to demonstrate that when one is gone, the world does indeed continue to spin.
I would give a boxful of autographed advance reading copies to have witnessed the archaeologists' gleeful realization that the skeleton already deemed "of interest" exhibited that distinctive S-curve of the spine. It's enough for me to imagine that Best Moment Ever--and to speculate which books in our library's collection might be just the thing for others fascinated by their amazing feat of retrieval.
These novels all feature archaeological discoveries in England, Scotland, or Ireland:
Haunted Ground by Erin Hart
The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans
Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon
To Dream of the Dead by Philip Rickman
The Moon Tunnel by Jim Kelly
The Bone Garden by Kate Ellis (part of the Joe Plantagenet series, no less)
Speaking of fortunate excavations and how valuable things come to be buried: I've been reminded this week how that can happen with library resources.
One of our handiest databases, Auto Repair Reference Center, might escape notice simply because it's one among many databases on offer. Even if you've used it to look up service bulletins or wiring diagrams, you could miss "Labor Times", listed (for most vehicles) near the bottom of the topics page. If your vehicle is included, you can use that feature to learn, before you take your car in, how much time is required for the repair and approximately what it should cost.
Oh, and Janette from Youth Services alerted us yesterday about this nifty option in World Book Online: under "Specialty Sites" you can select Craft Corner for age-appropriate educational craft projects.
Did you know that the library's getting a new webpage? Watch for it this spring. We're already generating content ideas, including more "If you like.." features: additional reading options inspired by favorite authors or themes. Susan from Youth Services suggested a brilliant one--recommendations for Downton Abbey addicts. Done!
FICTION: Habits of the House by Fay Weldon; Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown; The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton; The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate; The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide; The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones, The Golden Prince by Rebecca Dean.
MUSIC CD: Downton Abbey: the Essential Collection
NONFICTION: Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir by Margaret Powell; The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes; Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon; The Chronicles of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes; The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson; English Country House Interiors by Jeremy Munson; The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters
DVD: The House of Eliott series; both Upstairs, Downstairs series (original and recent); Gosford Park; Jeeves & Wooster
But a funny thing happened on the way to compiling this list--sort of a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon experience, only with author Henry James.
Examples: Cora, Countess of Grantham, qualified as a "Buccaneer" (moneyed American beauty on the hunt for an English title to propel her into the upper echelons of society). Edith Wharton, who authored The Buccaneers, was a good friend and literary colleague of James and even campaigned for him to win the Nobel Prize. DA notables Dan Stevens and Michele Dockery appeared in a UK filming of James' haunting The Turn of the Screw. Dan Stevens currently stars (with Jessica Chastain) on Broadway in The Heiress, adapted from James' Washington Square.
Remember (regarding Edith's letter to the Times editor) the dinner-table allusion that "one of the Churchills" had ventured into journalism? Well, among numerous other celebrities of the age, Winston Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph, (AKA Mrs. George Cornwallis-West at that time) consulted James regarding the profitability of lecture tours.
Elements of DA that resonate with American viewers--class distinctions giving way; clashing American and European mores (American energy and spirit vs. hidebound tradition); social complexities, not to mention elegant living and circulating among the "best" circles--characterize HJ's work, too.
James' hallmark, psychological realism, may not be the primary draw for DA aficionados. But if you're engaged by the developing thread of the Earl's misfires in paternal influence or Isobel's awkward forays into social activisim (especially if you enjoy speculating on her motives) you might be a James reader and not know it.
If you could only try one James story, make it The Beast in the Jungle. Other wonderful introductory options are DVDs: The Golden Bowl (Kate Beckinsale); Wings of the Dove (Helena Bonham Carter), and The Heiress (Olivia de Havilland). The library has two excellent fiction books--Colm Toibin's The Master and David Lodge's Author, Author--starring Henry James at crucial junctures in his life.
James, whose reputation and work demonstrate remarkable staying power, was quite modern in some ways: membership in a famously dysfunctional family; cool, trendy friends (Mark Twain was a favorite correspondent); edgy writing schedule (creating serial installments for magazine publication from month to month). He was even a recycler of sorts, significantly revising and repackaging and translating storylines from stage to page and vice versa.
You may find yourself an HJ convert. If not, no problem. As James observed via a character in Portrait of a Lady: "I don't want everyone to like me; I should think less of myself if some people did."
Could have been the caffeine: twenty ounces of home-brewed latte consumed in a brief commute produces an adequate jolt. But I suspect that NPR's "2 percent" story (thank you, Neda Ulaby) was the real morning brightener.
Pop culture blogger Linda Holmes cited "an axiom of television comedy writing", the expectation that certain jokes and references will likely be understood by about 2 percent of the audience. Terms like "dislocation", "fragmentation", and "polarization" abound in similar discussions of contemporary American culture.
Nice to know that I'm not alone in sometimes missing references to the latest reality show phenom, YouTube record-breaker, or music industry sensation du jour. So long as I don't expect everyone else to fret about the trajectory of e-book vs. print circulation forecasts or discuss relative merits of Emilio's and Anthony Ryan's runway collections, I should get a pass for not tracking the saga of Manti Te'o's girlfriend, right?
In a world of proliferating sensations, social channels, and apps (have you tried the Chihuly digital glass-blowing one?), we run the risk of limiting personal growth by spending too much time--especially online--ensconced with others sharing the same priorities and skill set.
Granted, once you venture beyond your comfort zone, you face a daunting array of opportunities competing for your time and loyalty. To address the learning curve for cultural literacy, you need a staff of assistants to monitor all those fronts for you--or at least a toolkit of go-to resources.
Here at the library, we have a nifty, instantly accessible solution to this very problem: library staff.
I find that American Dialect Society's Words of the Year offers an insightful rundown of recent invention in language usage that also encapsulates significant trends. But of course that (along with Atlantic Wire's Books We Loved in 2012) is squarely in my English-major bailiwick.
To diversify my informational portfolio, I rely on co-workers like fellow reference staffers Geeta and Chris. Their recommendations: tech sector sites Ars Technica and Engadget and social news sites Reddit and Alternet. (Reddit's alien icon perfectly captures that "stranger in a strange land" feeling that most of us experience with increasing frequency.)
Add to that expertise my daughter's favorite daily update: AppsGoneFree, the app that alerts you which apps can be downloaded for free that day.
And you can still count on live, in-person advice on what to read at the Reference Desk. Titles on my mind this morning include not shiny-new bestsellers but books read last year and still recalled fondly this year: Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles, William Landay's Defending Jacob, Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist, Lance Weller's Wilderness.
Finally, no mention of popular culture is complete without a nod to Angry Birds, Honey Boo Boo, or the Dos Equis guy. I don't always reference commercials, but when I do, I plug my favorites.
Topic for the day: Time Travel. It’s due to Round Rock Antique Mall and the vintage necklace I bought there. A 1950’s European accessory in an unusual color, it features beads cleverly made of Lucite; they look like glass but weigh almost nothing.
Admiring it, colleague Carolyn discerned its most salient attribute. She observed that antiques markets and their wares “take you back in time.” Who doesn’t occasionally speculate how your particular personality or capabilities might have fared in another epoch?
Like the Arts & Crafts table or 1880s trunk in my house, stories imagined in different periods offer the best of both worlds: connecting to an adventurous past or even future with one foot planted in the age of central heating and Skype. We aren’t the first culture to appreciate the empowering aura bestowed by artifacts or experiences from an alternate lifetime.
I’m not particularly drawn to science fiction, but, like so many others, I still crave time travel accounts. Authors who first come to mind—H.G. Wells, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Eric Flint, Harry Turtledove—don’t have a lock on that theme, and neither does the science fiction genre.
Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol features time travel. Romance fans have flocked to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and the first two volumes of Deborah Harkness’ All Souls trilogy. (I wish their publishers would discover a production-enhancing time warp and get the books out faster.) Beatriz Williams’ recent Overseas would also appeal to this audience.
Scanning the internet, you’ll see certain titles earning frequent mentions: Octavia Butler’s Kindred; Daphne du Maurier’s The House on the Strand; Selden Edward’s The Little Book and The Lost Prince; Jack Finney’s Time and Again and From Time to Time; Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth and Sepulchre; Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog; H.G. Wells’ The Chronic Argonauts (published before The Time Machine); Michael Crichton’s Timeline; Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-five.
Those who’ve enjoyed modern film/TV hits like Doctor Who, Groundhog Day, or Field of Dreams (from W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe) should check out Eight Best Time-Travel Flicks for a more intense focus on that element. Public libraries—Hennepin County; Douglas County; Multnomah County—suggest some wonderful reads in the perfect quantity: more than a couple, fewer than Goodreads.
In Round Rock Public Library’s catalog, you can input “time travel fiction” for Subject and select “Books”, “Video—DVD”, etc. for Type of Material to discover many titles, including new ones like Katie MacAlister’s aptly title Steamed: A Steampunk Romance and Jason Heller’s Taft 2012. Some excellent titles might not strictly qualify as time travel but come close with “split stories” paralleling two eras: I heartily recommend Amy Sackville’s The Still Point and Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin.
I wonder if H.G. Wells would approve of my latest time-bending maneuver: DVR’ing Downton Abbey, then re-viewing to see if, this round, Sir Anthony would behave differently and not break Edith’s heart (and mine).
Resolution someone should make for 2013: solve the question of acceptable vs. inconsiderate digital multitasking.
Before the term came into being, we felt virtuous when accomplishing things simultaneously. Haven't we heard the stories about pioneer women sitting fireside, stirring the soup with one hand and quilting with the other--and rocking the baby's cradle with one foot? The other foot was presumably also doing something worthy--perhaps treadling the spinning wheel while someone else spun, sewed, and shelled peas.
More options exist for offending others now. More of an Appliance Multitasker than a Gadget Multitasker, I'll start up breadmaker, washer, and dryer and head out for some gardening while listening to a Playaway book. But the minute I witness someone popping out a cell phone and texting during a live conversation, I become The Judgmental Multitasker. It's easy to scroll for information and disapprove at the same time.
However, multitasking books (and/or books that prompt the reader to do so) deserve gold stars--unless the reader was hoping for a restful, non-stimulating literary interlude...
Consider Steven Saylor's A Twist at the End, the choice for a January book group. It blends history, politics, true crime, mystery, and easily inferred social commentary.
Saylor's protagonist is William Sydney Porter AKA O. Henry, famed author of classic short stories ("The Last Leaf", "The Gift of the Magi", etc.). Prior to achieving literary fame, sometime Austin resident Porter was a ranch hand, pharmacist, quartet singer, illustrator and cartoonist, editor of The Rolling Stone weekly, bank teller--and convicted embezzler. (Trivia buffs take note: he's also credited with coining the term "banana republic"). Set in 1885 Austin, A Twist centers on the sensational Servant Girl Annihilator murders, still unsolved and credited to America's first serial killer. Sculptor Elisabet Ney, numerous colorful figures from the Texas legislature and the then-new Capitol building's "Goddess of Liberty" statue also figure in.
Be warned. You'll be torn between turning pages and pausing to seek more historical background. I found the framed 1895 panoramic map of Austin in my living room to be both a benefit and a distraction. I kept trotting over to pinpoint whichever intersection or location had just been mentioned. And, with the internet and Handbook of Texas Online so handy, why not treat myself to more details about moonlight towers, the Texas Capitol, and so forth?
You can order your own historic maps from the General Land Office (where O. Henry was employed for a time).
Note (pg. 221) the reference to Richard Harding Davis as certain to be widely read "a century from now, in 2006". Davis, premier correspondent of the Spanish American War, writer of fiction and Broadway plays, magazine editor, and literary influence for Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, and Ernest Hemingway (among others) was so dashingly handsome as to have inspired the image of the Gibson Girl's escort. His clean-shaven look influenced a generation of men to forego formerly stylish facial hair. He's even alleged to have brought the first avocado back to the States.
Had texting-while-chatting been an option back then, he'd have made it look charming.
Hi there. What's your sign?
Sounds just as creepy online as it does in person, but it relates so well to a New Year observation.
According to Chinese astrology, February 10, 2013 opens the Year of the Snake. Given the popularity of library mascot Rocksssanne, every year at Round Rock Public Library is the year of the snake. Still, who doesn't appreciate guidance for one's annual expectations, particularly when it's signified in terms of an easily relatable animal persona?
Though I'm impatient with glib political rhetoric that glosses over sticky realities or the immense diversity of situations, I'll cheerfully sample astrological predictions directed toward huge segments of the population. History does not record my ever altering travel plans or schedule or delaying an important purchase based on the day's predictions. I have, though, reconsidered my approach to anticipated conversations or adjusted the tone or frequency of certain phone calls or emails. You know the reason why: despite discountable prognostications, horoscopes frequently lend wisdom by advocating patience, understanding, forgiveness...
I just checked my (vastly oversimplified) Chinese zodiac personality and outlook for 2013. Am I allowing myself to be shallow while not affording politicians the same privilege? Probably. But you might enjoy peeking at your sign.
You'll be reminded that that understanding of animals and their unique characteristics transcends cultures and demographics. Further, there's evidence that all animals have potential to reveal unexpected dimensions of their characters and capabilities. In a global culture/economy, the folly of underestimating others merits caution wherever we can experience it.
Finally--and self-servingly--one's fortune may prove to be a day-brightener. Did you know that my (Sheep/Goat) personality is considered highly creative, charming, tactful, sensitive, elegant, altruistic, intelligent, artistic, and refined? As for the elements of insecurity, disorganization, lack of ambition, and capriciousness: I elected to gloss over those. That's where the tact comes in.
At any rate, it seems appropriate that Round Rock New Neighbors book group chose Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger (a personal favorite) as their first discussion pick of 2013 (Jan 21; more details here). In The Life of Pi, Elsa Watson's romance Dog Days (named a Publishers Weekly "Best of 2012" pick), Spencer Quinn's Chet & Bernie mysteries, Betty Webb's Gunn Zoo mysteries, multitudes of fantasy tales invoking the power and mystery of dragons--the beastly element, treated whimsically, metaphorically, or otherwise, provides authors scope for expressing what brings out the best and worst in humans.
Naturally, these forthcoming titles, all due out in January 2013, caught my eye. You, too, may be intrigued by them: Tiger Rag by Christopher Nicholas; Tin Horse by Janice Steinberg; White Dog Fell from the Sky by Eleanor Morse.
...is another version of "The Night Before Christmas". What if Santa paid a visit to downtown Round Rock the week before his annual delivery?
The Night Before Christmas at Round Rock Public Library
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the shelves
Resounds pitter-patter of holiday elves,
It has to be elves, right? The library's closed.
With no one in evidence, this question's posed:
Who's scuttling around, making noises of diligence?
Tiny associates of that red-suited imminence?
Who else would be busily shifting, arranging,
Accounting for things from our patrons' exchanging?
Well, the answer's apparent, for those who aren't daft.
It couldn't be otherwise: library staff!
The drop box, you know, functions all ‘round the clock,
Someone must come in and duly take stock,
To find workers here after hours won't be scary.
What if it's Carolyn, Candy, or Mary?
Elaine, David, Chip, and Regina endeavor
To update and leave no loose ends whatsoever.
Before our doors open, Eric, Susan and Joe
Make order of chaos, but--hold on, now--Whoa!
Good grief! I was wrong and at fault--a contrarian,
Or so I am told by the reference librarians.
They assure me that your first impression was right,
It is elves we're hearing; they missed Santa's flight.
One morning last week, before opening hour
As Erikka filled the upstairs display tower,
An iconic image her focus did snag--
An jolly old man with a SHOP THE ROCK bag.
"It's OK," Chris told her. "He did ask us first.
It's perfectly fine; we're not being coerced.
Yes, we're not open yet, but this guy's on a mission:
You might say, a global one-night expedition.
"And he needed to check without further delay
On a shipment of iPads gone sadly astray.
He misplaced his smartphone at a high elevation--
He just needs to use a library workstation."
As Geeta and Linda joined in on the huddle,
The episode no longer seemed such a muddle.
Since the reference desk helped with this seasonal service,
The kindly large patron seemed no longer nervous.
He bestowed on the dazzled librarians a bow,
Requesting his presence they would disavow,
Until he had time to return to the north,
Complete preparations, load up and set forth.
But, now it's near midnight, he's well underway
And details of what really transpired we'll replay:
Two elves had decided in Round Rock to stroll,
Since rarely they chance to depart the North Pole.
As they lingered in StarCo enjoying their treat,
Santa exited town with his crew incomplete.
So, when library staff noted sandwiches taken,
Or granola bars absent or yogurt forsaken,
They chose to say nothing, suspecting perhaps
The hunger of small ones best kept under wraps.
Fear not, Santa's tweeted: he plans to recover
The elves from their refuge; on Christmas he'll hover
Above downtown Round Rock in hours before light
To scoop up the homesick ones fully contrite.
There's really no harm done: the elves are well nourished
Their collaboration with staff clearly flourished.
In conclusion, all wish you a Joyeux Noel:
Santa, elves, and your staff here at RRPL!
Have you seen this: T-shirt with wineglass graphic and text "More book club, please"?
Of all the pairing strategies for this beverage category--course-by-course restaurant scenarios, cheese tastings, digital guidance on what to serve with various things-- wine's trendiest association may be with literary discussions. A good book and a choice bottle don't just enhance one another, they compensate for deficiencies. Didn't care for the book? Well, chances are you'll approve the vintage.
None of my book groups follow the sip-and-share template, but one has evolved from snacks to entire meals, occasionally with wine accompaniment. What does it say about me that I vividly recall several lovely dinners and almost nothing about the texts that inspired them?
But however other reader meet-ups evolve, count on this directive: Do not, under any circumstances, distract or befuddle yourself with a glass of wine before the Great Conversations book group at the Baca Center. You will need to keep your wits about you. It isn't just that these people take the readings seriously; they prepare. Did you pursue additional background about this month's author, Google some of the historical facets, and review additional selections by the writer? Congratulations, you'll be in the lowest third ranked by degree of readiness.
This week's selection, excerpts from Thorstein Veblen's (1899) The Theory of the Leisure Class, typical of GC assignments, has stood the test of time. What's unusual is that the same book was chosen by a member of that dinner group a few months back. (He emailed the group prior to the meeting, apologizing for the selection; we still like him.) I could describe our progress through the entire text of ornate prose, but "slog" is an ugly word. I maintain that most employed what I call the Fruitcake Approach that month--picking through, identifying elements of interest, and consuming those.
That's a perfect segue into the recently reviewed 30-page segment of Theory... in Great Conversations 1. That nicely sized slice of the book addresses (of all things, at this time of year) conspicuous consumption. Discussion included these questions: What is the definition of conspicuous consumption? Why do tasks relegated to women historically rank low in esteem despite their vital nature?
Group convener Helen, asker of incisive questions, is certain to render the very inquiry one feels least secure in addressing. So when she queried, "Are we a leisure class?" I decided to go for it, asserting that everyone in the group qualified: we have discretionary time, can purchase multiple non-essential items, and (most importantly, since it speaks to Veblen's emphasis on force and predation) may utilize social networking opportunities like Yelp to assert power over production of goods and services. Several agreed that Veblen's evolutionary approach to consumerism could adapt to include the blurring of classes now prevalent.
At which point Helen delivered the question nobody wants to answer: How many pairs of shoes are in your closet?
Fortunately, closets have also evolved.
Volunteering to work the 3-11:00 PM shift for Christmas Family Night (tonight) didn't seem like an awful idea weeks ago. Today, it proved to be a brilliant move. Imagine: an entire weekday morning to catch up on tasks at home while you're fresh enough to enjoy doing them.
Scouting for boxes in an infrequently used room upstairs, I harkened to a surprising amount of squirrel traffic thumping and careening around atop the shingles but fortunately not in the attic (yet). Note to self: check on that more often. A more reassuring discovery was this: the better-than-I-remembered stash of gifts purchased last year during post-season sales. It's easy now to survey all the items and recall whom I had in mind when selecting them.
But that other memory issue--newer impressions and data elbowing out older but highly significant stuff--is one we try to mitigate every day in the library.
The best information provision blends the best of cutting-edge and tried-and-true. Even as we audition new digital resources (and we have a nifty one in mind right now--details later!) to offer our patrons, we want to keep proven ones on the radar screen.
Yesterday, for example, as we examined an advance copy of The Virgin Diet (author, J.J. Virgin), I checked whether the library has it on order (yes). Many patrons will be interested in this new volume dealing with food intolerance. "Or," as co-worker Chris suggested, "maybe they should just try using turmeric more often." That readily obtainable spice has been known for centuries.
Yesterday, as a delighted patron discovered that RRPL has six different music CDs by his favorite artist, I mentioned that, in good old allmusic.com you can input a song title and view all the artists who've recorded it, album information, listen to samples, etc. Curious about those hundreds of music genres and subgenres you hear about? Click the "Explore" tab to understand how the different styles relate to one another (example, 18 different varieties of soul: Chicago, pop-soul, uptown, country beach, brown-eyed, deep funk...)
In a world offering trendy tips like The 5 Best Digital Yule Logs and Bloomberg's Technology Gift Guide, it would be a shame to neglect classic web resources like Internet Movie Database. It's been around for years and is still fabulous. After you're read reviews and traced actors' work, try the common search to see who's appeared with whom. Who knew that Liz and Dick made that many films together? No wonder....
Want to be more than current? Try Film Journal International's Blue Sheets and discover movies that forthcoming soon or even in 2014 and 2015. How about Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Bacon in Universal's R.I.P.D. (Rest In Peace Department) as undead police officers? Or Robopocalypse in April 2014? Or MGM's Where's Waldo, 90 minutes with a three-second glimpse of Waldo?
Finally, this timely site delightfully marries the past and the trendy: Santa Mail's array of vintage Christmas toy commercials from the 1950s onward.
This time of year, surprises should arrive tied with a bow or layered in a tin with other similarly delectable items. As for the other kind of eye-opener (say, the dawning realization that the updated flower bed shape doesn't fit our Christmas lights like the old one), those can be difficult to appreciate.
My mood began trending upward, however, when the workaround proved to look okay. All was calm and bright until our neighbor strolled over, observing that he and his wife had been discussing the new landscaping and were "worried" about it.
These are fantastic neighbors, the kind whose opinion matters. My spirits already threatened to sag before he finished, "...because it looks like you're staging your house to sell."
We're not; as I explained, but we did need to vanquish the encroaching mess of shrubbery that we'd dubbed The Fortress of Green. As it turns out, there are worse things than being advised that one's departure from the neighborhood would be regrettable.
Here's the moral of that story: Moods can turn on a dime. So don't wait until you're feeling the holiday spirit to embark upon seasonal tasks. Give yourself permission to grumble as you drag boxes down from the attic or pout as you untangle strings of lights. By the time good cheer inhabits your soul, you'll celebrate it even more in a festive setting.
Better yet, tune into music guaranteed to energize, inspire, or instantly improve your day. In search of a can't-miss slate of tunes for just this purpose, I asked around for "absolute favorite tunes, holiday or not, that you'd recommend for a day-brightening mix."
And, thanks to library staffers Kate, Theresa, Linda C, Elaine T, Eric, Mary, Candy, Chris, Chip, Joe, Pat M, David, and our friend Shannon from the City's Communication Division, we're offering this lineup almost certain to include some of your favorites. We call it
The Round Rock Public Library Holiday/Everyday Playlist
"What a Wonderful World" sung by Willie Nelson
"Linus and Lucy" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
"Skating" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
Handel's Messiah - "Hallelujah Chorus"
"Stormy Monday" by The Allman Brothers Band
"River" by Joni Mitchell
"Messages" by Xavier Rudd
"Christmas Don't Be Late" by Alvin and the Chipmunks
"I Was Made For Sunny Days" by The Weepies
"Simple Gifts" by Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss
"St. Thomas" by Sonny Rollins
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by Charlie Daniels Band
"What A Wonderful World" sung by Louis Armstrong
"Where were You When the World Stopped Turning" by Alan Jackson
"The Lord's Prayer" sung by Andy Williams
"Christmas Time is Here" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
"Sleigh Ride" (instrumental) by Leroy Anderson
"Java" by Al Hirt
A certain approaching event conjures up a vivid image: busy workers frantically readying shipments of delightful items for wide, eagerly received distribution.
Santa's elves are probably working overtime, too. But I was thinking of forthcoming books; yesterday I read a review for Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls, due out in early January. I loved this author's The Day the Falls Stood Still so am anxious to get my hands on this new novel about two sisters in Belle Époque Paris.
Since we cherish the notion of handmade toys and gingerbread men lovingly manufactuerd on a holly-wreathed assembly line, it's not hard to imagine all that affection and energy in a production model for writing. True, this couldn't be contained in one venue; writers all over the country--sometimes even in other countries--labor over laptops or typewriters (that likely are not adorned with twinkles, ribbon, or greenery) crafting our next favorite reads. Scattered though these industrious creators may be, the end results prove just as celebratory. Boxes and digital downloads, materializing when promised, are joyously accepted.
Anticipation is half the fun; watch the library for these upcoming deliveries:
If you've already seen Kevin J. Anderson's Death Warmed Over, you know that it features Zombie P.I. Dan Shamble, who is busy solving his own murder. Dan's next adventure, Unnatural Acts, is lurching toward its publication date. Readers fond of small-town characters, Scotland, and cozy mysteries will applaud A.D. Scott's Beneath the Abbey Wall. While you're waiting, check out A Small Death in the Great Glen and A Double Death on the Black Isle. Austinite and award-winning romantic suspense author Laura Griffin continues her Tracers series with Scorched. Round Rock Public Library has all of the earlier Tracer entries.
I read an advance copy of debut author Elizabeth Black's The Drowning House so can attest to its being atmospheric and memorable. Given its setting in Galveston; Erik Larsons's Isaac's Storm would be the ideal companion read. Tracy Chevalier, highly successful with European historical fiction titles (e.g., Girl with a Pearl Earring) will offer a tale based on American history (Underground Railroad), The Last Runaway. Another Austin resident, Manuel Gonzales, has published in some notable magazines and currently is receiving enviable notices (including a starred review from Publishers Weekly) for his short story collection, The Miniature Wife & Other Stories.
Fans of Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony Award-winning author Harlan Coben will rejoice to hear that Six Years is due out this spring.
Alan Brennert, whose Moloka'i proved such a book group favorite that it won a "Bookies" Award in 2006 as Book Club Book of the Year, now brings us the decades-spanning Palisades Park. And fans of Edward Rutherfurd's epic historical sagas (Sarum, London, New York: The Novel) will cheer the publication of Paris: The Novel in April--and should go ahead and clear a couple of days on their calendars. Fellow readers will understand.
If you hear an odd metallic noise anytime in November, just ignore it. It's the sound of literary standards being ratcheted down another notch.
Under normal circumstances, we readers maintain the loftiest of expectations, which of course do not include cliché's, repetitive word choices, or plot mechanisms that either strain credulity or just downright insult it.
But these are extraordinary times, my friend. November is National Novel Writing Month, and this year I am (usually late at night) concocting what is tentatively dubbed Another Terrible Novel. Given that 50,000 words are required to cross the finish line on November 30, I'm not far behind the pace at my current 22,184. This sum has only been achieved thanks to vats of caffeine and no thanks to a few unscheduled events of the sort that promise to continue throughout the month.
Does this sound like an excuse for a further diminishment of prose quality over the next two weeks? Oh, good; that's a relief. To be fair (to myself) we NaNoWriMo aspirants know at the outset that quantity really is the goal. To produce a 150-page document in 30 days, writers are compelled to "just go with it". In the sheer desperation of getting something--anything--down on the page, they are driven to thoroughly ransack their memories and psyches for material.
The process is much like finding oneself back in elementary school; it's lunchtime, and you're opening the mysterious brown paper bag that you've carried all morning but didn't inventory until this minute. Clearly requiring sustenance, you dig deep and drag everything out. Appalled at first by offerings that look unpalatable (to you and, you're sure, every other person in the lunchroom) you check again--and spy a raw vegetable slightly past its prime.
Now, you're generally more of a cheese-and-crackers or apple sort of person, but those options aren't present. Suddenly that carrot or whatever represents all manner of possibilities. With creative thought, it could be rendered quite satisfying. And--on a very few occasions--you peer into the sack just once more and discover a tantalizing morsel that anyone would covet. You had only to delve into those dark recesses.
This all explains why writing quality occurs as a happy surprise, not an expectation, when the writer grasps frantically to fill in a blank. I once noted that, in an otherwise nicely written novel, the author chose the phrase "shaped like a sarcophagus" enough times that it evolved into a joke, detracting from a more than competent story line.
Last week, on the verge of creating a time-traveling heroine deserving of a dashing name, I assisted a library customer searching for a book by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier. Brilliant! That night, my character was christened "Augusta". And I realized how unsuspecting library customers could aid me in answering the 50,000-word question. I only have to pay attention. And they'll easily find me at the reference desk. It's as large as a sarcophagus.
You've heard that caution about never asking a question to which you don't know the answer; it's generally referenced in legal contexts but could be dicey for public services, too.
Ever since Michelle, our director, announced that a consulting firm would conduct focus groups and surveys for the Library Master Plan process, we've felt awfully curious about what our patrons would rate Good or Not So Good (actual category names). We're still accepting survey responses and will need to await the final accounting, but we've seen a sampling already.
Rather than many repetitions of a few themes, our patrons conveyed opinions on a wide array of topics, from the scarcity of transit options to an impression that we focus too much on children.
One we haven't heard in a while: in the "Not So Good" column, one customer commented "Miss people behind the counters."
We understand. The first time I ventured into the library as a new resident in 2005, I was amazed to find many library staffers visible on first floor, at and behind the counter, shelving and checking in books; there was no behind-the-scenes circulation workroom. The library's renovation carved out a check-in room and gallery display/seating area in the square footage formerly carpeted with book carts. Along with our Children's area, the grownups' part of first floor is now a destination, not just a path to checkout.
The downstairs Public Services Desk was reconfigured for compactness but still accommodates a live staffer and our self-check machines; those allow the deployment of other humans for tasks machines can't do. Thus, we manage to serve an ever-growing population.
You'll still find friendly faces behind the counters. At the reference desk, we often hear stories that inspire a big "Great question!" smile. Recent examples...
The customer who requested "recipes in a jar" cookbooks: Ours had disappeared or were worn out. Theresa, our collection development manager, is on the case: 100 Easy Recipes in Jars and Mason Jar Soup to Nuts Cookbook are now on order. Here's the best part: the customer shared, as she departed, that she recently won a Ghirardelli baking contest and promised to bring in her winning recipe next time.
The couple with the unidentified painting: We figured out a strategy: send photos of the painting (reckoned by their conservator to be German and created 1850s-70s) to a museum in the region of origin. Asked who referred them to such a knowledgeable expert, they replied, "Itzhak Perlman." They'd lived in an area of New York favored by such notables as Perlman, Henry Kissinger, Jane Alexander (with whom they'd once Christmas caroled).
The ladies who brought in "Flat Sarah" and asked for Sam Bass information: Sarah was a substitute for the original Flat Stanley who'd sadly disappeared on his return trip from Europe. Being photographed with Sarah and Sam Bass (via computer screen), I observed that Sarah must be tired; her color looked a little washed out. "Oh, that", one of her escorts responded, "No, it's because we were taking her picture on the Round Rock and she fell into Brushy Creek!"
Those Texas Book Festival planners are geniuses. Imagine not only producing a weekend of superb literary presentations but also conjuring up October weather that feels like October?
I, however, am not brilliant and consequently found myself at TBF with 25 precious minutes available for reading--and no book. The advance copy of Amity Gaige's Schroder intended for that purpose was left basking in the gloom of the parking garage.
At least I'd arrived early for this speaker and secured an auditorium seat fronting the upper section. Unearthing paper and pen, I spent the interval savoring the novelty of leg room and generating character names for my book. National Novel Writing Month begins this week; thank goodness I finally have the skeleton (how appropriate) of a plot.
The story line involves a couple dozen individuals--people resembling the array of citizenry streaming into that very location, I realized. Inventorying the audience, I cast my novel by identifying types like those in the story and engineering monikers to suit each one's persona.
If you were present, you could end up in my fictional creation (sort of), but no one would ever know. Besides, if this NaNoWriMo result achieves the quality of last year's effort, I'll hit "delete" and vaporize it as soon the word count is verified. Having learned much from the previous experience, I'm striving for a standard above "no one should ever see this". Aim high: that's my motto.
Contently scribbling notes for a tale not fated to enrich humankind, I'd awaited a presentation by David Shapard, creator of annotated Jane Austen novels. Shapard contended that Jane Austen could be the greatest English-language novelist ever. Was it symmetry, balance, or irony provoking that auditorium to simultaneously host evidence of the best and the worst in fiction?
Shapard also noted-- supporting his "greatest" assertion--that critics' esteem for Austen's work has (remarkably) not fluctuated over time. And I mentally applauded Shapard's assertion that Austen's "good" characters are not dull. Having earlier quoted a couple of snarky one-liners mined from Austen's correspondence, Shapard conjectured that Austen characters were sometimes allowed to publicly overstep and later repent, much in the way that the author herself may have. Goodness, Shapard maintains, was "an achievement".
En route to the next venue amid readers, authors, event organizers--achievers all--I considered why NaNoWriMo authors sign on for a grueling month-long writing assignment practically guaranteed to engender a document that's, er, flawed. The reason: success can follow only the act of putting oneself out there and awaiting the consequences.
And if the result seems a universe away from Jane Austen? Well, NaNo is an achievement in itself. At least, you'll have proven Yoda wrong.
More Posts « Previous page
- Next page »