Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Breasts attract trailer houses and pickup trucks and lots and lots of tears."

~Griff Gilkyson, the irresistible (and, of necessity, somewhat precocious) nine-year-old girl at the center of Mark Spragg's spare but beautiful novel An Unfinished Life.
Griff has spent her short life growing up in trailer houses owned by her mother, Jean's, string of ne'er do well boyfriends. She never did know her father, as he was killed, before she born, in an accident. This accident left Griffin Gilkyson's life unfinished (the novel title is the inscription on his tombstone) though in many ways Griffin's life is the most "finished" in this elegant novel because it is done, even if it was cut off too soon.
An Unfinished Life is at its heart a family saga, and, as many of those sagas go (indeed as many lives go) the ties to family of origin have been severed by blame and guilt. The third person narration alternates among Griff; her mother, Jean; her grandfather Einar; and Einar's best friend Mitch. Jean' most recent abusive ex-boyfriend Roy is even given a few chapters. All the voices ring entirely true to their own character.
The novel also develops chosen-families (and, in the end i believe, even if we decide to keep ties with our family of origin that is indeed a choice and we are making them our family). Mitch says it like this:

"He's heard it said that a man can't choose his family, but that's what he did. He chose Einar Gilkyson, and Griffin and Ella, and this woman too. it doesn't matter that he hasn't seen her for ten years and he knows he'll choose the slight girl he met just this morning. Not because she's Griffin and Jean's, but because he liked what he saw. It's the way he's always made his choice of family."

Though Griffin's life may have been unfinished he seems to have left his loved ones' lives stalled at the place where he died, going through endless routines and regretting the mistakes they continue to make. Griff is perhaps the biggest victim, never having known her father she feels his absence as an ever-present hole in her life~one that leaves her not wanting to grow up (and not knowing how). Griff feels like she is always in a transitory state, moving from one trailer home to another with her mother and her string of abusive boyfriends. When she comes to her grandfather's solid log house she finally feels like she has come home.
This novel is very much a part of its setting, the open spaces of Wyoming. Though Jean reluctantly goes back to her hometown, to a father-in-law that hates her she finally finds the space she needs to breathe and find a new life.
"When I was Susan, I used to be a librarian. Susan had a very rich internal life. Starla lives it."
~Starla (née Susan)

Monday, August 27, 2007

"Global warming may be the most serious challenge the human race has ever faced, but don't freak."

Here's a grand plan: if you can't turn around this whole global warming trend (or should i make that if we can't turn it around~and can it really be called a trend at this point? Well, maybe by some people, that is, if they acknowledge it at all...) just grab this handy dandy little guide; The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook: 77 Essential Skills to Stop Climate Change--or Live Through it by David de Rothschild. Skills 1-67 are the ones for preventing/slowing down global warming and they are helpful suggestions though there doesn't seem to be any new information offered there; and from 68 on it's "If all else fails" (edged in red). The book itself smacks a little of the Worst Case Scenario handbooks, which i don't think is intentional, and is at least a little off-putting to me. It seems to be aimed at the MTV generation (or rather the generation after it~shall we call them MTV 2.0 generation?) And i don't necessarily mean that as a dig as i am a part of the MTV generation (and that it would be aimed at that sort of visually/music-based attention span seems only appropriate as it is an official companion to the Live Earth Concert Series (and maybe i'm just bitter because i didn't get to go...). Anyway, i found it a little trite (though the humour was well aimed. If you are young, hip, and a beginner to the whole environmental scene this might be a good choice (just call me old and unhip)
I think, however, if you are looking for some solid information, which is not all doom and gloom with a light touch, somehow The Green Book: the everyday guide to saving the planet one step at a time by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas Kostigen just feels a little better. At least to me (and my opinion is the only one that counts, right?)

"the establishing of alpha-omega relationships with major lifeboat pests"

Though i could use this moment to defend my faith in agnosticism, and how it is not lacking in creativity (but perhaps more abundant in it than the rest of you lot~grasp that Horatio?) i think i've already made that point at least once or twice, besides which i might be taking some wind out of Yann Martel's marvelous sails if i were to attempt to do so (but give us agnostics a chance, dude). I mean i do get his point and all but he seems to be missing mine~that instead of letting go of imagination and possibility i am holding on to what is there even tighter... But enough about me...
If you haven't read Life of Pi you probably haven't a clue what i'm talking about anyway (like i ever drop any hints with my ramblings to begin with). Pi Patel is a sixteen-year-old Hindu-Christian-Muslim boy stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean along with a 450-pound Royal Bengal Tiger in a twenty-six by eight foot life boat. Everything all crystal clear for you now?
Apparently, some readers were not thrilled with the story of who Pi came to be where he is, who he is, they found it dragged. Well i enjoyed that part. I thought the "lost at sea" part dragged a bit (but i suppose it would). This is a very well-written, very well-told tale that at times felt just a bit pedantic and as if i was having allegory thrown to me with the fishes and turtles (but maybe that's just the agnostic in me...) I'm also not sure that Pi has quite the same view of zoos after certain experiences (off the lifeboat) that he professes at the beginning of the novel, but i have found no discussion or supposition of such... Martel does have a marvelous sense of humour~always a saving grace.
Completely unplanned and coincidentally to reading this book, i was watching the dvd Pi (no relation)~let me tell you~that black and white, grainy, conspiracy theory, migraine syndrome tale is not to be viewed when you are suffering migraine induced insomnia...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

bibliognost, bibliolatry, biblioklept, bibliomancy, bibliophile, bibliopoesy, bibliotaph, bibliophagist, bibliopole, bibliomania, or bibliosophia?

I'm not sure that i actually fall into the category of bibliophile or bibliomaniac, although i've often called myself one. I do have a collection of over 3,000 books (there are still so many in boxes that i haven't catalogued them all) but many of them i just bought because i wanted to read them and was afraid they might go out of print before i got a chance more than because i wanted to own a valuable possession. There are a few i own because i want to OWN, or read again, and again, but i am not, for the most part, a connoisseur. In fact, "one theory holds that the defining moment occurs when a person buys a book with the prior certainty that he will never read it, though others are less cynical," i don't know that i have ever bought a book with the prior certainty that i will never read it (well, perhaps i have not intended to read it cover to cover, but definitely Needed to have it immediately at hand for reference... or felt i did...)

A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes tops out at 638 pages (but that’s with 103 pages of notes and index so you only have to wade through 535 pages of actual text). It starts out interestingly enough, with the preface and first chapter introducing the subject at hand and giving a brief gloss over the drive to collect books. The first part of the book is devoted to the history of book collecting and is an interesting chronicle of the development of many private libraries as well. One must have a sense of history to appreciate the history of any art including that of book and printmaking.

Not that the entire tome is boring, exactly, or i don't think i would read the entire thing, it's just that occasionally i would find myself at the end of the paragraph without any idea of what it said (do you ever do that? it's one thing when you're listening to some windbag go on and on or watching t.v. or something along those lines, but when you are reading, which is, in a sense, an active activity, and realize your mind is drifting... But in this case, it seems to be a rather orgasmic experience {just so i have your attention...} but more than that, perhaps i am a bibliophilliac after all, just reading about book collections, and book auctions, and books, well you know, some things do it for some of us, and many things do it for some of us [librarians are a sexual fantasy stereotype after all]and what is it about orgasm that seems to wake women up and make men drowsy? Is it just a satisfaction thing, or some kind of evolutionary adaptation to ensure pregnancy and species diversion?]). Okay, back to the subject at hand...

I found the second part of the book to be a bit more intriguing as it provided more intimate sketches of the bibliomanes themselves (perhaps this was necessitated by the times~Basbanes only had interview access to live subjects, after all). An entire chapter is devoted to Stephen C. Blumberg, the biblioklept who stole from rare book collections of libraries across the country to amass his own reference collection (which he always considered his own personal ILL system~he was saving the libraries from themselves, really...)

Instead of admiration or even a sense of having found kindred spirits in this book, i found myself wanting to clear out many of my own processions which have become too numerous and cumbersome. One of my biggest fears is that i will die leaving a pile of crap that my niece and nephews will have to sort through for me. Even at my current rate of about 150 titles per year can i really read all of the books i own that i have not yet read (and with new ones constantly appearing do i really want to?) And what IS the point of ownership anyway? I've always had a need to hold on to things, as if i can hold on to people and to history and to all the feelings attached to them if i can just hold that thing in my hand. Poppycock! One of my purposes in blogging the books i read is to try and hold on to the memories of what i felt when reading so do i really need those pages?

Perhaps much of this is brought about by the fact that i have come to the sudden realization that i am in desperate need of about $7,000 like, yesterday (just to bring my bills current, mind you, to keep the creditors from repossessing my cats and the blood in my veins~hey, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing, if they could just replace it with some fresh, healthy, non-migrainey blood...because i have absolutely nothing of value) Maybe it's also just brought on by the fact that i'm tired of having so much damn stuff, and having to walk over, move it around, or plow through it constantly.

"Night after night I have spent carting down two flights of stairs more books than I ever thought I possessed. Journey after journey, as monotonously regular as the progresses of a train round the Inner Circles; upstairs empty-handed, and downstairs creeping with a decrepit crouch, a tall, crazy, dangerously bulging column of books wedged between my two hands and the indomitable point of my chin. the job simply has to be done; once it is started there is no escape from it; but at times during the process one hates books as the slaves who built the Pyramids must have hated public monuments. A strong and bitter bone-sickness floods one's soul. How ignominious to be strapped to this ponderous mass of paper, print, and dead men's sentiments! Would it not be better, finer, braver, to leave the rubbish where it lies and walk out into the world a free, untrammelled, illiterate Superman?"

~Solomon Eagle, Moving a Library

I won't even mention those multiple cross-country moves (even the cross-town moves are bad enough). Time to lighten up... While i'm still in the mood, but how?



Saturday, August 25, 2007

for just a moment

sometimes drinking is the only thing that will numb the pain

melt the hailstone

that everpresent



in a way

isn't it

that i don't drink


(once upon a time, never alone...)

and toxic


makes forgetfulness come

and go for

just long enough

to remember

that it

is enough

for just a moment

but then it is gone

in a moment (and every moment after . . . )

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

feline philosophy from across the pond

Vicky Halls is a veterinary nurse who currently works in Canterbury, Kent, United Kingdom as a “cat behaviour consellor” (that U.K. bit is important because there are some fundamental differences in U.K. thinking on what is best for our little feline friends and U.S. thinking). Being a cat behavior consellor apparently means that she earns her living by visiting people in their homes, drinking tea from their cat mugs and listening to their stories about their cats.” She never gets bored (her words). I’m not sure how helpful any of this is to the North American cat owner who picks up Cat Confidential: the book your cat would want you to read with a hope to solve a particular cat problem, it is, however, a rather entertaining and thoughtful book written with some insight.

First off, in case you didn’t know, two major difference between British and American views on house cats:

  1. In the U.K. declawing is illegal so you will not find any discussion of it here~pros OR cons (not that that’s a bad thing~i believe it’s a rather inhumane thing to do myself, but it does bear mentioning)

  2. more importantly, in the U.K. it is considered depriving a cat of one of its most basic needs to not allow it to freely roam outside whereas the A.S.P.C.A and the Humane Society of the United States as well as most U.S. vets agree that not only are cats much safer as purely “indoor” creatures but that they can live a very happy satisfied life if kept inside (given the proper amusement and stimulation). In fact it is mentioned as one of the symptoms of an overly attached (perhaps even bordering on pathological) owner in this book if:

the cat is kept exclusively indoors or allowed only restricted access to the outdoors under supervision for reasons of ‘safety’. (The owners worry that the cat would be exposed to unacceptable dangers if it were to go outside)”

In the U.S. this would be considered indicative of a responsible cat owner.

Another conceit of this particular author seems to be that often the answer is to remove the cat from the home, which, i am sure, must sometimes be necessary but she seems much quicker to do it than i would be (and have worked out situations in my own home that have seemed more daunting than those she seemed to resort to very extreme measures with…)

The book is divided into chapters which would seem to make seeking help for particular problems easier:

  • The New Kitten

  • The Scaredy Cat

  • The Aggressive Cat

  • The Indoor Cat

    • which of course would always seem to result in a “stir crazy” cat who needs some outdoor time

  • The Multi-Cat Household

    • which rarely seems to work well (except in the author’s case)

  • The Weird Cat

  • The Human/Cat Bond

  • The Elderly and Disabled Cat

  • Coping with Bereavement

Unfortunately many of these “problems” often seem to have similar solutions and they are so anecdotal as to be of little use. I found the last two chapters dealing with elderly cats (which is really just a report on a survey the author did of cat owners) and coping with bereavement to be the most helpful. Halls said she wrote this book mainly to talk about the nine cats she has shared her life with (and each of these is used to introduce a chapter), it is on this level and in Halls’ tone that i find the book succeeds most. (She also is incredibly witty and i love her description of how cats feel about cat doors~but without them, and the constant need for the cat to go outside, doesn’t that leave you at your cat’s beck and call?)

Worth reading but for behavior advise a better bet is probably Nicholas Dodman.

Monday, August 20, 2007

"Sorry, but you'd done one of your drifting-off-into-space tricks there, and I know how long your meandering little fantasies can last."

Maybe i actually needed those hordes of junior high school kids to take out my rampagey crankiness on because now that i'm working in a calmer library i seem to be venting it on poor feckless Irish authors like Claudia Carroll. It happens once again, i get a book in my box, my hold notification on it, with no recollection as to why i put it on hold (at least this time i had a vague recollection of putting it on hold~so That's progress...) So i set out to read Remind Me Again Why I Need a Man: to find Mr. Right, first you have to revisit all your Mr. Wrongs (somewhat cute title but not exactly my usual~should have been a hint right there.)
I have a couple of problems right off the bat, the writing is okay, but the "lovely girls" as the narrator, Amelia Lockwood, refers to herself and her very tight knight foursome of friends are WAAAAY too much like an Irish version of Sex and the City (granted one of them is happily married, and one of them is a gay man, but other than that...), there are even a few lines that if they are not direct quotes they are pretty damn close. Another one is the constant need for Amelia or one of her friends to constantly exclaim things like "you can't make this stuff up" or "if you saw this in a movie you would not believe it" or to describe events as surreal (either i'm living in the surreal world or they're really not that surreal) and you really should not be pointing out how unreal your events are since apparently you CAN make this stuff up (you are writing a novel after all, aren't you?~or, if you're not making it up, perhaps you should rewrite it to make it more believable, i'm not really sure~just stop telling me how unbelievable the whole thing is), relay the events and let them stand (or regardless, it all just gets so annoying).
And then, perhaps i would be one of the few people to notice this since i am a child of the 1980s but if you are flashing back to say 1984 please don't make reference to a movie you saw that wasn't released until 1985~just a bit of research would fix that (same goes for other time specific reference~i know you're filling atmosphere but come on.) In general the editing could be much, much better (i know, i know, people in glass houses and all that but this is self-publishing after all...)
I guess the basic premise of the novel was just off for me as i have never felt a NEED for a man, a relationship, or marriage~i always saw those things as compromise and if the person came along who i felt it was worth it for, then sure...but i realize i am in the minority here. Beyond that it threw me off that though the purpose of (this class Amelia is taking to get her married of within a year) is to track down her exes and find out why they didn't stick, she never actually asks them any questions about their relationship, just encounters comic situation after comic situation.
Okay, after rant, you might find it surprising to hear that i found the novel somewhat enjoyable. It went by quickly and made for a nice diversion (and look at all the crankiness i cranked out). And though i thought i saw a predictable ending i was presently surprised. What do you know?

ponderables and/or irritants of the day

  1. no matter what time of day i come into the library there is always at least one person sitting in their car doing nothing, it always makes me rather curious to say the least…

  2. as part of our summer reading program we have something called an “i-spy-bottle” sitting at our reference desk: basically a big soda bottle filled with bird seed and twenty small items (things like a stamp, a screw, a game piece, a golf tee, etc…) and people have to find the items and list them on a form to enter for a prize. It is rather difficult to find all the items (i know what they all are and there is still one i have been completely unable to “spy”…) Anyway, what ends up happening, is that all day long we/i have to listen to the very annoying sound of the bottle full of bird seed being shaken and shaken and shaken as people look for tiny items inside. It is enough to give you a raging migraine even if you are not prone to them (and if you have them constantly, well, its enough to drive you into a raving, maniacal, rampaging, homicidal rage…)~if we Ever do this again i'm strongly suggesting sand instead of birdseed (in fact i think i remember making that very suggestion but...oh well...)

  3. i keep getting email saying “Now’s a great time to join AARP…” excuse me, but i’m not THERE yet, or at least i don't think i am...perhaps i've slipped into some kind of early senility, or forty is the new sixty now?)

  4. speaking of email, why do i get so much spam at my work email and pretty much none at my hotmail address~can’t the I.T. guys work something better out???

  5. Mr. NeedsRapToDownload is back and asks me if i have somehow tagged all those cds he asked me about in our system so that now we (don't we just love the use of the plural pronoun here?) can place holds on them. Of course i haven't as there is no way to do that... Damn, and him without his ipod too. Damn! Damn! Damn!

  6. there is a woman who always makes a big pile of our newspapers to sit on when she uses our computers which i find a bit distasteful (would you want to read a newspaper a stranger had been sitting on for a couple of hours, or what if someone was looking for one of those newspapers at the time she was using them~she piles up pretty much all the papers she can find.) I can relate to shortness~i am short myself (and i don’t think i have more than an inch on Her) but our computer chairs are adjustable, i’ve showed her how to adjust them every time i tell her to please not use our newspapers as a booster chair, and she’s always SOOO apologetic like it’s the first time she’s ever heard it from me…

  7. this guy wants me to locate the dvds he turned in from another library system because "the librarian" told him he could turn them in to "any library" (yes any library in their system) and they haven't shown up yet. "I'm sorry sir, but i have no way to do that," He looks incredulous, "You mean you don't just slap a barcode on them?" yes, because that's what we do with all items that we don't own, that's how we make all of our acquisitions...

  8. i'm watching a discussion (is that an oxymoron in this Web 2.0 age?) on one of my bulletin boards about subject limits on books (i.e. an individual can only check out a maximum of three items on one particular subject~it seems a number of libraries do this so that people can not wipe out their entire collection in one fell swoop~call me naive, but i had never heard of such a thing). The discussion was initiated by someone questioning whether or not she should begin this process at her library because people check out over ninety items on one subject at a time~though we don't limit by subject we do limit to 30 items per check out which does seem reasonable to me. I do wonder a few things:

    1. how exactly do they determine subject (do they break it down by Dewey 10s, 1s, 0s, what?)

    2. do they also limit fiction and genres in this way?

    3. does this seem odd to anyone else (or is my system too limiting~I mean there was the recent book thief (not to be confused with the book by the same title) to consider~he wouldn’t have been able to get away with QUITE so much in my system)?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

"She didn't even perm her hair,"

It’s hard to understand, without being immersed in the poisonous air of then.”

~Doris Lessing, Under My Skin, Vol. 1

Georgia Tann was the highly lauded American social worker who changed the way America thought about adoption in the early twentieth century. That she was also an abusive, negligent kidnapper of babies, children, and adolescents; selling her charges to the highest bidder, caring for no one's welfare but her own is chronicled in Barbara Bisantz Raymond's highly readable, informative and immensely interesting The Baby Thief: the untold story of Georgia Tann, The Baby Seller who Corrupted Adoption.

The Baby Thief begins by placing Georgia and Memphis in their time and place in history, which were uniquely suited to each other. Before Georgia's time (although this book is a bit contradictory on this particular point) stranger adoption was not a common option in England or the American society modeled after it. Eugenics was becoming popular and children of unwed, poor mothers were thought to be genetically inferior. Georgia Tann introduced the idea of adoptive children being "blank slates" ready to be written upon by the environment of their new, wealthy homes. She also was a very strong supporter of closed records, to protect the adoptive parent (and in her case, often, to hide kidnapped children from parents who might be seeking them). It is rather surprising to learn how much of modern "closed" adoption practices came from this self-serving woman and at the same time we do have some things to be grateful for her to. There is a certain sense of her place as well as our modern concept of adoption in the broader culture of adoption's history.

There is the usual bias though that all adoptees have a hole that can only be filled by finding their genetic parentage. Raymond feels a certain sense of guilt as an adoptive mother. I, of course, am a biased bystander but i am also in the majority in that i have no wish to seek (the statistic that fewer than ten percent of adoptees actually do choose this option is often left out of those "missing piece" stories~though this is one of a much different colour.) I am definitely not against legislation to make opening records easier but i resent the implication that we are all seeking wanderers...(just had to add my [not-so-missing] piece...)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

up in the night

I remember way back in the dark ages (like 1993 or thereabouts) of the internet i would sometimes get caught up, wrapped up, taken away, whatever, by the many possibilities~the many linkages, for lack of better words (here and above)~but it was oh-so-different then. My computer was a monochromatic laptop (well, i did have a colour monitor i could hook it up to but it would have just been a blue screen full of text then...)
Anyway, back then linking was a much different thing than it is today~you could click on links, but they were all text based (not that there was much visual stuff going on yet anyway~except for some early experimentation with Mosaic) and once you clicked it was rather difficult (at least for me) to find your way back. I often found myself heading down "alleys" and winding up lost on some "dead end"~it wasn't the best distraction for insomnia/migraines (though the migraines didn't need quite as much distraction back then).
I didn't seem to waste as much time on the internet in the middle of the night then as i do now (or at least not following links). In some ways the ease of internet research and hyperlinking is a librarian's nightmare come true. All that research at the literal tip of your fingers. And it truly is endless.
When i was a kid (even further back in the prehistoric past) i used to love looking things up in the encyclopedia set we kept in the living room, one reference would send me to the next reference (or two, or three,) and so on, and so on... At some point i would tire of pulling books and flipping pages, back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. Things are so much, ahem, easier, in the computer age.
And it just plays right into the hands and heads (or is it the other way around?) of we insomniacs who can't quench the knowledge thirst. Tonight i was doing just a quick survey of "What's New?" over at Snopes and somehow here i am, about four hours later, with multiple tabs open, full of knowledge about the history of the AIDS epidemic (as well as a number of other pandemics~and when something is determined to be a pandemic) the difference in meaning between zoophillia, bestiality, and zoosexuality; what methemoglobinemia is; as well as many other incredibly useful tidbits (and who knew that there was such a thing as a cuddly little Ebola toy you could have for your very own? I certainly didn't, until now that is.) Now, you may ask, what the relationship is between these things. Perhaps there isn't a visibly direct link, but somehow or else each one of them led to the next (or quite a few others i've left out for the sake of some brevity.)
Sometimes i long for those dead ends.

Friday, August 17, 2007

weeding in an inhospitable climate

Every once in a while weeding can begin to feel like the chore that it is. Like when it's extremely hot. And when you have inherited the collection of an old-fashioned, Luddite librarian who believed that your small library branch should serve the function of an archival branch (or maybe she didn't really believe that but she Did Not believe in weeding, this i know.)
(once when i was out bar-hopping with roommates and one of them was wondering what librarians did (with all their copious free time) and i mentioned weeding she thought i said reading and she was shocked that i would have to spend time at work reading and my other roommate corrected her~i mean can you imagine a librarian...Reading? and she actually was shocked, and a little horrified as well, i believe...)
We are part of a large library system. We are a small branch. There is only so much room. Books can easily be brought in from other branches. Even out of print books can be brought in from Somewhere through ILL (yes, i am one of THOSE librarians~if only i could weed my personal book collection as easily...) But i really don't like old ugly, dirty, used, soppy books~and yes there does seem to be a question begging here, but not by me (unless of course it is one of my favorites, one of those books i think Everyone should read~but of course Those books aren't ugly~Or i'll invest in a pretty edition.)
I remember when i was a teenager i discovered one of my absolutely favorite books at my local library, First Person, Singular by Vida Demas. And i had to keep going back to check to make sure it was still on the shelf, because somehow, i intuitively knew those books would sometimes suffer some mysterious demise (which it eventually did.) With the advent of the internet used book search, i eventually, years later acquired my own copy, but was so sad to see the library's copy go...
So i've been weeding lately, all those books on computers from the early 1990s and the like (and i'm also having nightmares about the old library manager coming into the library and demanding to know where all Her books have gone~actually i think it's a sign i might have gone a bit overboard~the shelves are looking a little more empty and i'm feeling a little insecure) I also discovered Will Manley's Unsolicited Advice published in 1992. For those who may not know Will Manley (pictured above~a picture i've always found just a bit...interesting, by the by), he is a rather ubiquitous presence in library land and i have always found his columns rather humorous so i thought i might check out his book and at least give it a circ stat before deciding what to do with it (though some may call this inflating statistics, i can't very well take it home without checking it out now can i?)
Anyway, i didn't find the book quite as insightful or as entertaining as his columns. I have to wonder if it's twenty-first century sensibilities imposing themselves on the rather stuffy-seeming sensibilities of the turn of the century or its just me (i can be a bit radical...although i am very much in support of a graduate degree for professional librarians~and not just because of the debt i incurred obtaining mine {i also think we should be state certified and there should be testing standards...gasp} i did not know what Festschriften was until Manley defined it~must have been daydreaming in library school that day~tho i never did that~so maybe my, very excellent, library school neglected that subject {more gasping}...) I also found myself wondering if his letters were really sent to him or created by him so he could compose his own witty answers. Or perhaps i'm just cranky...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"(may the Siberian tundra lie lightly on your beloved bones)"

Waiting for the Barbarians

-What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

-Why isn't anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What's the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

-Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city's main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor's waiting to receive their leader.
He's even got a scroll to give him,
loaded with titles, with imposing names.

-Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

-Why don't our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

-Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
And some of our men who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

~Constantine P. Cavafy

It seems i might be kind of hooked on this space odyssey thing (just like Arthur Clarke himself was, because even though he swore he had left it behind him when he finished 2001: a space odyssey {though Kubrick was the one to tear up his sets so no one could film a sequel~they did anyway~though i haven't seen it} Clarke ended up going on to write 2010: odyssey two~and two more after that~and i will probably end up reading the entire sage because that's just the type of girl i am...actually, i truly wouldn't mind taking a nice long space odyssey right about now...)

The trouble, sometimes, with books that seem to offer explanations for other books is that they might interfere with your self-made explanations which might have been working very well for you until someone came along and explained to you just how not-well they were working...

2010 is a bit different to 2001 in that the focus stayed more tightly on the journey of one ship, the Russian Leonov~sent to discover the fate of the Discovery, the failure of HAL 2000 (maybe he should have been HAL 2001...just a silly joke there...), and also gather further information on the "black monolith" if possible. Clarke also went into deeper exploration of character relationships which made it a little more of an enjoyable and page-turning read for me. The character of David Bowman seemed to change direction somewhat from the last novel and there also seemed to be some plot discrepancies (though i didn't have the first book to check it out). As always, Clarke is a master of his craft and extremely well-versed in his science. I just love reading his stuff...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"Everything should be made as simple as possible,

but not more so"

~Albert Einstein

In order to make sense of Gerd Gigerenzer's Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious you kind of have to stop making sense (to borrow from the Talking Heads) or at least let go of the idea that everything has to make sense. It is a very interesting book, and if you just let yourself go with it, highly readable.

Gigerenzer's basic principle is that many of our decisions are based on unconscious and instinctual heuristic processes and that these processes are often more efficient than statistical and/or logical decision making processes (until you try combining the two). He makes an interesting observation in the first chapter, that i have found true in my own life~if you take the time to apply Ben Franklin's "Reasons of Motive" (basically making a list of pros and cons~if I ever take the time to do so) at the end of the ordeal you often find you've already made you're decision, even if it goes against reason (though you sometimes needed to go through the exercise to find that out.) He also talked about the gut instincts of baseball players who estimate where a fly ball will land while running rather than making a mathematical calculation and then waiting for it at its destination (what he calls the "gaze heuristic"~and which seems a tad obvious for me, but is illustrative for many of the other points he makes.)

He offers evidence for less knowledge often being more help than hindrance for predicting things like stock markets and sports winners as well as behaviours of opponents. Gigerenzer is the director of the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany but he makes this text highly accessible for the layperson (even concepts that may at first seem daunting deserve perseverance, for it takes just a paragraph or two). His extrapolation into the health care field and moral behavior is especially enlightening.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Do you like headaches?"

I had an eight year old girl ask me last night.

(the question gave me pause~oh little girl, you don’t know what or who you’re asking…)

although there was actually a time, i think, in the distant past, i dimly remember, when these headaches Were Not an EverPresent part of my life

Very hard for me to remember/believe~i do rather vividly remember the very first time i had to go to the emergency room with a migraine and i thought i would just die~or at least wanted to~from the intense, mind-cracking pain~the very, very worst i had experienced up until that point...

now that intensity of pain would tip about a five or six on my scale of one to ten... it's all relative i guess (and am i really happy that i can now tolerate what was once intolerable???)

No, i don’t think anyone likes headaches,” was the most neutral answer i could come up with, as i watched her rub her temples (i could tell the poor child had a headache~she had had a long evening~her uncle had been entertaining his work comrades~me included~for the first time in his new abode...)

I had also had a migraine for all of the day and all of the night (no big surprise there). But i didn't really want to miss an opportunity for saketinis (and the possibility of alcohol chasing the head pounding away if only temporarily) and a little socializing.

And, in fact, with the aid of a littile imitrex (thanks to my friend, because i had run out), and more than a little sake, vodka, and cherry juice, the big giant rock i affectionately call my migraine went a little less noticed for a while and i got a little more notice than i should have while i prattled on about things i probably shouldn't have (i mean talking about former libraries and former co-workers with people in admin when its all part of the same family might be a little ill-advised...at least i wasn't commenting much on current events~so to speak...). But it was all in good fun, right?

Isn't it interesting how inhibitions and pain receptors often seem to reside in the same parts of the brain?

Yet the question remains...

Does anyone REALLY like headaches?

(because they can have all of mine...)

Friday, August 10, 2007

they're ganging up on me

it seems

my favorite patrons/ customers/ malingerers/ vagrants (whatever the politically correct/in vogue term for {those people that are constantly coming into the library} is these days…)

and when i say


that’s not really what i mean

if you know what i mean…

last night, about five minutes before closing, i decided that i had seen just about every one of the most troublesome of the regulars that i regularly encounter at this particular library (even those who i had, quite gratefully, not seen in quite some time) except for one particular family, with the loud fit-throwing children, the intelligence-challenged father, and the reality-challenged mother, who does come in on a very regular basis~and i was more than a little apprehensive to even make this observation as we did still have five minutes left...

Not that it's much of a surprise, but i had come into work with a raging migraine, inflamed allergies (from who-knows-what-allergens), and the remains of whatever virus i'm currently fighting. The first thing i encounter is a man who is apparently calling all the car dealerships in town, attempting to negotiate buying a car over our courtesy phone. Of course our harried mother and my not favorite child are here, and i'm actually too tired to be unfriendly to my not favorite child, so i am treated to her incessant chatter.

When i return from my lunch break, i find the woman who USED to be so enamoured (but also so very, very demanding) of me (and seemed to have lost some of her attraction when i told her i would need to start charge her for printing anything in excess of ten internet pages per week as per management instructions~since all other customers paid for THEIR printing costs~and strongly encouraged her to obtain a library card and start doing her own research as she seemed to be so skilled in instructing someone else how to do it...) sitting in the chair for our handicap accessible online catalog staking out our parking lot. Eventually she went and grabbed a newspaper to hide behind. I never did figure out what she was doing.

Then, in creeps Mr. OldGuitarist, who i also hadn't seen for a while, luckily, there is less than two hours until we close, and he keeps his head down and heads back to the computer room so i will probably not need to interact with him. Then, simultaneously, i watch Ms. OddRecipeRequestWoman enter through one door while Mr. NeedsRapToDownloadToMyIpod enters through the other~i'm really not sure which is worth~both take mucho tiempo y mas paciencia (whoops, sorry, must have slipped a gear there...)

Mr. NeedsRapToDownload makes it up to my desk first (at least he is alone, sans screaming child brats, and whining wife this time). He hands me his card awaiting my service. I look at him questioningly. "We're going look up CDs again," he informs me. "oh, are we, now?" i question myself, wishing the answer could only be something other than what it is.

"Can it only be artist, or can it be by label or something else?"

"Who is the artist?" i avoid the question, not wanting to further prolong the process (although i have searched many, many labels for him in the past.)

He starts scrolling through his Ipod and listing names. I start searching artists and listing titles. I place three holds and then he reaches his limit, his "damn" wife has been putting movies on hold (not that i care). For some reason he wants me to continue the now futile exercise of telling him what cds we have in the system by his desired artists though i have told him before and he never remembers and we will go through this again and again...

He tells me he has so many already...

Hmm... (my head screams)

He laughs, "buying them is just not an option at $15 bucks a pop just to put them on the Ipod,"

Hmm...(head banging~and not in any musical way~should i play sympathetic~mention the illegality of it all~just wait for it to be over~i opt for that last one...)

This goes on for about fifteen minutes, OddRecipeRequestWoman leaves, he finally leaves, time for me to start closing up. I walk back to the computer room, tell everyone they have about five minutes left, some women actually shouts "HELP!" from about one foot away.

I sigh. She has inserted her computer access card into the disk drive. Just another night.

I am the first person in the library this morning. There was some kind of drug deal going on in the parking lot when i got here, or so it appeared. I ignored it. When i walked in the phone was ringing. Odd because, we didn't open for another hour. It was a call for the health department (we started getting all their calls at our circ desk yesterday afternoon, because somehow they were forwarded here~we thought they had stopped at about five p.m but probably it was just after hours). The fifth call was someone from the health department calling some one's extension in environmental health, he said he would try to get it taken care of. When i called the county phone system guy he said we WEREN'T getting the health department's calls.

oh well, must have just been my imagination (and the imaginations of all my coworkers...)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

look at all the pretty colours

So here's yet another World War II book, yet another Holocaust book, yet another young adult book (though i'm not sure the classification is particularly apt in this case~it was originally published in the author's native Australia as an adult novel...), and yet another book i have to consider for that committee thing...

this one i've been hearing about for quite some time because my friend has been raving about how good it is and how we really should choose this one...

He's been bringing out the oppositional child in me.

Just a bit...like somehow i didn't want to read it, recommend it just because he thought so very highly of it...
but it really is a wonderful book (so now i'm almost finding myself opposing myself...)

Markus Zusak is a poet. I'm not sure if he calls himself that, but he is an artist when it comes to wordcrafting. The Book Thief is an exquisite, engrossing, and evocative book of poetry that flows as only a novel can. And Zusak is unafraid to use words in new ways (turning adjectives into adverbs, adverbs into adjectives, or just creating new forms of words) that make his meaning absolutely clear without sounding overly clever. Only a true sculptor can do that (it creates absolute envy at the touch~in addition to the shivers it leaves behind.) And this is a book about words. The power of words to create worlds. To destroy worlds. To save lives.

"It's the story of one of those perpetual survivors--an expert at being left behind.

It’s just a small story really about, among other things:

*A girl

*Some words

*An accordionist

*Some fanatical Germans

*A Jewish fist fighter

*And quite a lot of thievery”

(and i do so love it when chapters are given titles and contents are hinted at, as they are in this book)

The book thief is a young girl named Liesel Meminger growing up as a foster child in a poor, tough town just outside Munich, at the height of Hitler's Germany. From the time he took her younger brother on the train taking them to their new foster home on the rather misappropriately named Himmell (Heaven) Street, Death (the narrator of this tome), became fascinated with Liesel. The Grim Reaper (not so grim after all) found himself distracted by this living, breathing girl though he had much, much work to do (and a very, very harsh taskmaster) at this particular point in history, and knew he shouldn't let himself be distracted by such human concerns.

There are so many things that could be made maudlin in this novel. And they never are. There are so many tragic paths that could be taken that are avoided (though many aren't~and it truly is a heartbreaking work). But this is such a book of strength. And of quiet, unflinching, brutal grace.

This is not "just another" Holocaust book, it is a tale, tightly focused on the individual German citizens who did not blindly follow but at the same time felt trapped in their fate, and of one girl who did the best she could to hang on to the words she struggled to learn and to love (and learned to hate as well); and the people she learned to love; and the only life she had as one she had to love (see where the wordcrafting envy comes in???)...

Liesel is not a martyr and she isn't exactly a hero. She is real.

Although Death's narration is born of a personality and necessity removed from both the wonder and horror of humanity, his voice is filled with an appreciation for both. An amazing accomplishment. (what is perhaps more amazing than the writing though, is the difference in range of experience and memories of reading each reader had of this book~i am continually surprised by the fact that i see the world through different eyes than even my closest friends, but i really shouldn't be...) Don't let anyone else (especially not me) tell you what to think about this book or how to feel it. If you feel that this is something you want to read, the experience will probably move you somehow...

(and just in case you wondered~this mainly non-meateater was really craving sausages while reading THIS book~even though the characters never had the luxury of eating much of anything but bread crusts and pea soup {which i actually do like}~though they did have champagne once which exploded in Liesel's mouth and reminded me of the times champagne has exploded uncontainably in my mouth~just by the by)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

can you hear me now, sisbaby?

Digging in my heels and dragging my feet (now, there's a mix of cliches) we Taureans can be a wee bit obstinate and loud about things we are not so thrilled with doing (and construct our sentences poorly, as well, apparently.) Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe is not a bad book, really. Actually, it's quite good.
It was a book i had to read because i'm on a committee considering it as part of a program that my library system is doing. I don't really consider it appropriate for the program and feel resentful of reading the book in the first place (there were a few other things i was annoyed with but they're really not relevant, so they will remain unmentioned...) It is a young adult novel. It's written as a young adult novel, and it reads like a young adult novel. It's also a message novel, with a lesson to teach, Crowe says that:
"the idea of writing Mississippi Trial, 1955 originally came to me because, I was concerned that despite its significance as one of the triggers of the Civil Rights movement, the Emmett Till case is still essentially overlooked in history books and classes. It's been a difficult story to study and retell, but it's a story that must be known by all Americans young and old."
I feel like i got the message. Loud and Clear, thank you very much. Reading this reminded me of all those things i had to read in Junior High (and then be tested on, or report on, or write on~hmmm...) I hate feeling like i have to do something.
The book focuses on the true story of the abduction and murder of Emmett (BoBo) Till, a fourteen-year-old black boy from Chicago in 1955 Mississippi and the subsequent trial of his accused murderers. It is told from the perspective of Hirum Hillburn, a fictional sixteen-year-old white boy who is visiting his grandfather in Greenwood, Mississippi, the town where he'd been raised but had left to move to Tempe, Arizona seven years earlier. Hirum has retained an idealized picture of his hometown and hadn't recognized the southern currents of racial hostility as a younger child.
When the abduction takes place Hirum has reason to believe his childhood friend R.C. is involved, and is subpoenaed to testify at the trial. The narrative seems just a little forced, and the plot seems to take a while to get started; but the short book does become more of a page-turner as it goes on. Hirum seems more naive than necessary and slow to catch on to some of the more predictable details (especially the biggest one, which i felt could have gone unstated and still remained clear...) But this novel does an excellent job of portraying a place, time, and pervasive environment that is perhaps difficult for some of us to understand today. It is an important story to be told.
Perhaps the fact that i was unable to sleep and had a terrible stomach flu at the time i was reading it affected my judgement slightly. Perhaps i didn't give it such a fair shake~like i said, though~it was a good young adult novel~worth reading on that level. Would make a great requirement for Junior High School (not for a public library program...~and notice how i make sure what comes around goes around?)
*and all the descriptions of Hirum's gramma's and Ruthanne's cooking made me crave my own gramma's, oh so wonderful, cooking (though she wasn't southern, she was an incredible cook~mashed potatoes and fried chicken especially...) Why must i always be nauseated and hungry at the same time? Terrible, terrible combination. And why do these books on such serious subjects always make me hungry? (perhaps to remind ourselves that we are still alive and well?)

"No matter how dark the tapestry

God weaves for us, there's always a thread of grace"

~Hebrew saying

In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me—and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

~Pastor Martin Niemoller

Although sometimes more good can be done by staying quiet. Not staying quiet in complicity; but remaining silent in defiance and working behind the scenes to help hide those who are in danger in the tradition of the, by now, well known Oskar Schindler, or an almost entire nation of good-hearted and brave Italians who sheltered almost fifty thousand Jews.

I remember hearing Mary Doria Russell come to speak about A Thread of Grace before i had ever read the novel. I had loved her previous works The Sparrow and Children of God and when i met her i was actually fawning all over her (something rather atypical of me~i was more than a little embarrassed~but she is an alumna of one of my schools, AND she says librarians are some of her favorite people...), but i had her sign a copy of the book and was quite excited to read it, after hearing Russell talking about it, though i never got around to it until now.

This is an incredible novel. It tells the story of a number of very human, very fallible characters involved in the Nazi occupation of Italy (much of the action is set in Liguria~if you are ever making pesto you must, must, must use Ligurian olive oil {i recommend the Roi brand} in my ever so humble opinion but also in the more expert opinion of Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's~and if you think olive oils are all the same you have never tasted real quality olive oil~believe me it's worth the price) in the later stages of World War II. It will break your heart (and for the youth of today who think they're living in the worst of times~i even heard America referred to as a third world country the other day~go live in a third world country for a while, then say that...~here's a taste of some other times but it will also restore your faith in humanity. It brought back memories of my first stepmother's mother. An Italian Mama from the old world, she had a huge old house and farm in Modesto, California. I remember going to visit hear there and being served wonderful, huge meals (she would always want me to eat "more, more, more" because i was such "an ittie, bit of a thing".) She insisted i call her "Nonna" (and she was my Nonna~my only one, even though i had two other grandmothers) and would pull me into her lap, and put her arms around me and i would feel so much love from her. Her house and yard would always be full of people and there would always be room for more. I miss her, i will always remember her.

Thanks to her, i understand Italian hospitality and that's what this book is full of. If it seems a bit too idealistic, there is documented history to back it up (and soon, documents will be all we have to go by, as we loose more and more survivors each day...) It is a beautiful narrative that lingers in the mind, in the heart, in the soul; like a song whose coda keeps repeating and will not, cannot, let that final note rest.

When racial hatred raged in Europe,

Jewish refugees, uncertain of their fate,

coming from distant countries

--Austria, Belgium, Germany, Poland--

found hospitality and safety in these valleys.

Hidden in isolated cottages,

protected by the population,

they waited with trust and hope,

through two interminable winters,

for the return of liberty.

In homage to and in memory of those who helped them,

those refugees and their descendants

embrace the noble inhabitants of these valleys

in brotherhood.

~inscription chiseled in marble memorial stela erected in Borgo San Dalmazzo, 1998 by the Jews of Saint-Martin-Vesubie in honor of the people of Valle Stura and Valle Gesso.