Monthly Archives: April 2007

Voted off the Island

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Me: “I know you said you preferred Fantasy and SF, but since you’re a character-driven reader, I think you might like the Lincoln Rhyme series.”

Patron: “Oh, I like Thrillers okay. I read that one… what was it… they made it into movie.”

Me: “You’re kidding. They made a book into a movie?”

Patron: “You always this sarcastic when you’re talking about books?”

Me: “I’m always this sarcastic, period. I’ll personally let you know if I ever stop.”

Patron: “Yeah, cause it’ll be at your funeral, cuz you’ll be dead.”

Me: “Right. So this book that was made into a movie? Can you tell me anything about it?”

Patron: “It starred… um… that guy. Um. Ben Afleck’s best friend?”

Me: “Matt Damon. And the thriller you read was The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum.”

I’m pretty proud of that. From “Thriller made into movie starring Ben Afleck’s best friend,” I got the title and author. Not bad for a librarian who doesn’t watch movies (or read Ludlum, for that matter.)

Unfortunately, my brilliant deduction didn’t overly impress the patron, because the patron was actually a coworker in disguise. It’s easy enough to dazzle ordinary citizens, but other librarians expect genius as a matter of course.

I’d been telling New Girl the results of her reading survey. Here at Wilhelmsplatz, we offer a very cool service: the reader fills out a survey of reading interests (Do you want issue-driven? Action-based? Lots of characters? Sports as a theme?), and we reply within a week with ten book suggestions. New Girl has been pestering me for book recommendations, so I finally told her to fill out the form. Maybe I’ll have some reprieve while she goes through the books I came up with. Should take her at least two weeks to read the whole Lincoln Rhyme series.

Readers’ advisory is the best part of being a librarian. Many librarians will disagree with me, but RA is the best part of my day. That’s why I wanted to work at Wilhelmsplatz: it’s one of the best RA libraries in the country.

So I was feeling wounded over the Staff Recommends display. I picked some of the best books EVER and put them on a shelf with “Jessica recommends” on it. Everyone else got a shelf, too. Guess who got voted off the island first? It’s just not fair! None of my books were moving! Every other staff member managed to circulate some books, but not me. I started to get desperate. I posted myself by the display and tried to handsell the books. (“Sir, you look like the type who’d enjoy The Long Tail.” “I’m just here to fix the copier.”)

Nothing. No dice. Apparently I was a failure as a librarian—good for placing holds on books for people, but not much else.

But then we launched our recommendation-a-day book blog. It’s very cool: there’s a brief book suggestion each day, and it’s completely cross-searchable by genre, appeal characteristics, etc., ie. “quirky characters” or “graphic novels” or “young adult.” A different librarian maintains it this week. This is my week. Of the three books I’ve suggested so far, one has a copy checked out; one has all three copies checked out, with three holds on it; and one has one copy checked out with two holds on it.

Maybe I shouldn’t quit librarianship in despair, after all.

Released from probation

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That’s right, I’ve been working at Wilhelmsplatz six months. Now they’re going to have to try really hard if they want to fire me. Henceforth I will be reporting for work nude.

Forgive me for saying something predictable, but golly, the time has flown. In some ways I feel like I just started. There are still some parts of the job I don’t know. Only figured out yesterday that I’m supposed to have the computer schedules ready by the 15th of the month. Still don’t know where Lost and Found is at the one library. Am still fuzzy on the names of some of the Circ and Tech Services staff.

But mainly I feel like I’ve been here forever. I love my job. I feel like I fit in, like I belong here. I love the work I do. There’s almost no aspect of my job that I dislike, aside from dealing with the rare unpleasant patron.

As far as Wilhemsplatz the town… when my parents visited a few weeks ago, Mom got all misty-eyed and said this was the perfect place, that she would love to be a twenty-something in my apartment in this town. It was really soppy. I expected her to break out with “The Hills Are Alive.”

I raised my eyebrow at her. “This town is rich and old, Ma, and white and conservative. Sure you want to live here?”

Don’t misunderstand. Compared to Franklin, my home for the 16 months before I moved to Wilhelmsplatz, this is heaven. I can live here just fine indefinitely, which I intend to do, because there’s no library I’d rather work at. (And I like Hair Dresser Jeff and Yoga Instructor Jennifer.)

But yeah, it’s rich, old, white, and conservative. I only meet one of those conditions.

The library is a haven. It’s well-funded and, okay, most of the staff are white, but there’s a nice variety of ages and a lot of liberal thinkers. Plus I’m not complaining about the well-funded part. I feel guilty about it, but I’m not complaining.

Just woke from a four hour nap. I feel great. Too bad it’s midnight

And that means it’s April 20, Hitler’s birthday. Why do I know that? It’s the same day as the Columbine shootings. I remember it vividly, having been in high school at the time. It’s also the same week of the year that Tim McVeigh detonated his bomb. Add to that the Virginia Tech shootings, and it’s just not a good time of year.

I’m not going to say much here about the Tech shootings. I think it’s still too early to speculate much, too early to look for answers or patterns. But I will say this much: The people in Iraq suffer this kind of thing every single day. Can you imagine? America is reeling because of one violent episode. What must it be like to have this happen in your country a few times each week?

Enough with the violence in America and the world. Enough, enough. I don’t know how to stop it but we need to start now. 

The Devil Ducky’s in the Details

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Everything was down at work the other morning: the internet, the intranet, the catalog, everything. And I was working the desk.

I was, in a word, petrified. Without google, I am nothing.

Well… not quite true. I can pass muster as a reference librarian, even without the internet, if I have a catalog and some databases. Those tools won’t tell you the lyrics to the Green Acres themesong—that type thing is the sole province of the internet—but I can take a stab at answering most reference questions with the materials owned in our library. We have an excellent physical collection, and when you factor in the databases, our library offers access to an extraordinary amount of material.

But not being able to use those? I was prostrated. I was good for pointing the direction to the bathroom, and that’s about it.

The phone rang. I gulped.

I picked it up. A female voice came through the wire.

“Can you tell me why I put a book on hold?”

Yikes. I’m not a mind reader.

“It’s called The Road. I forget the author, but”—


“The author is Cormac McCarthy,” I said, “and you put it on hold because Oprah told you to.”

Score one for the librarian. Shazam!

Then we proceeded to talk about the book. She asked me lots of questions about McCarthy, and even without the internet or the catalog, I knew the answers.

Example: “Who is this guy? Where’s he from?”

“Well, he was born in Rhode Island, but mostly he sets his books in the South and the West. The New York Times has hailed him as the best unknown author in America.”


I failed to mention to the lady that I’d just finished writing an article on McCarthy less than a week ago. Let her think I’m a super genius.

Had a pun today, a great pun. Guy walked in. “What’s with the gallows?”

Eh? “Pardon me?”

“The gallows. There’s a hangman’s thingy out front.”

“Huh,” I said. “That’s noose to me.”

Best pun I’ve had all year, I think, unless you count the one back in early January when a guy asked me to tell him whether I believed in free will.

“I kant,” I said.

Ah, these puns, they stay with you.

Reason we had a gallows out front was because some local actors were rehearsing for The Crucible. More weight! I was sad when Arthur Miller died, not like the grumpy funk I’m in now that Kurt’s gone, but I was sad nonetheless.

So, to balance that, some cheerful news:

First—Bookish Jet gave me an awesome birthday present. No one’s ever written me a blog post before. I like it much better than home decorating ideas, cept maybe for the poster of Johnny Depp she was contemplating. That would have been an acceptable substitute.

I just love stuff written about me. It’s not my fault I’m an only child.

And then… remember how I went to an in-state library a few weeks back to talk about Library 2.0 stuff? They sent me three thank-you gifts.

Gift the first: a t-shirt that says Digital Angel on the front. On the back are angel wings made of computer chips. It is awesome, and it fits. No one thought it would. It looks tiny, but I made it work. Had to suck my gut in, but I made it work.

Gift the second: a Devil Ducky USB. I’d shown the Devil Ducky during my talk as an example of a really cool flash drive. Perfect. It’s the perfect present for me.

And finally, the best part: they sent me a card, signed by all their staff. Not just signed as in “Judy Q. Public,” but signed as in “Dear Jessica, thank you for the talk. I learned a lot. Judy Q.” It really means a lot to me.

Now to play with Beelzebub. Bub is the darling kitty I’m sitting for. He’s going to help me read from my Myron Bolitar novel. It is possible to read without cats, but never pleasant.

Rest in Peace, Kurt

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My favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, just died. I’m really sad. Here’s the response I posted to Blogging For A Good Book:

Oh no…

Vonnegut was my very favorite living author. I loved his voice, his humor, his passion, his causes, his charisma. His novels, his nonfiction, his short stories– all of it was brilliant.

Vonnegut was, to me, one of the most important voices in the whole history of American social thought. Of the many different thinkers who have tried to understand the world around them, Vonnegut is one of the elite few in my personal pantheon of people who really get it, up there with Mark Twain and Ben Franklin. I admired his compassion and intellect, and his gift for putting it all into words that moved me. He managed to package humanity and philosophy into a ripping good pleasure read.

I’m really bummed. I admired Kurt more than any other famous person. The world’s a worse place without him. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sad about the death of someone I didn’t personally know.

A more cheerful, lengthier post soon, about the awesome gifts I received in the mail yesterday, but for now… well, to use Kurt’s words, for right now, I think happy posts can take a flying fuck at a rolling donut.

The Opiate of the Masses

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Happy Easter.

Remember that I am, technically, a Christian, this despite my commie pagan fag pro-government tendencies. I disagree with mainstream Christian teachings on a few minor points, viz., I don’t believe in hell and I don’t think Christ is the only way to salvation. I think one religion’s as good as another and, if you press me on it, I’ll probably concede that atheists get into heaven.

Hardly worth calling myself a Christian, if I have to disclaim it so much, but what can I say? I like Jesus, and what he had to say. I think Christianity at its core—dare I say it, at its fundamental core—is a sensible, peaceful, meaningful religion.

I don’t go to church for three main reasons, in this order:

1. I am too lazy to get up on Sunday mornings.
2. I hate groups.
3. My interpretation of Christianity is very different from anything preached at most pulpits.

Funny story: guy came up to the desk looking for the Left Behind series. The LB books are a fundamental, evangelical, post-Rapture-but-pre-Apocalypse series. Jesus came, whisked off the good Christians to heaven, and gave everyone else seven years to shape up or get sent to hell. These books are extremely conservative and extremely popular.

For political and aesthetic reasons I dislike the series intensely, but I’ve made myself do a modest genre study of so-called Inspirational Fiction. I don’t care for it, but my patrons do, so I read some of the books. That’s dedicated librarianship, that is.

So guy wants the first book in the series. Without needing to look it up in the catalog, I trot him over to L for LaHaye. Along the way I give him a short plot synopsis.

The guy’s really impressed and pleased. I’m pleased. Happy patron = happy librarian.


“Do you go to church?”

Um. That’s not an appropriate question, mister. I refrain from telling him so, and answer instead with a simple “no.” He probably assumed that meant I didn’t have a Christian faith, but I didn’t feel like getting into details with him.

“Then how do you know so much about the books?”

Sigh. I know about the books because I’m a librarian.

What makes me sad is that the guy had a simple, but erroneous, conclusion in his head: Liking LaHaye means you’re a Christian, and not liking him means you’re not.

Too many people think like that. Too many people think Christian means conservative. This is why I don’t care to even disclose my religion, not without ample opportunity for caveats.

Just finished a book today on a very peculiar group of Christians, the Mormons. Mainstream Christians do not acknowledge Mormons as being Christians. Guess that gives me something in common with them, but the similarities stop there. They’re a conservative, sexist, racist group. That’s not slander, by the way: they happily acknowledge their sexist racist conservativism.

Book I read was Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. It’s about the history and practice of Mormonism, with a focus on two contemporary Mormon brothers who, acting on a command from God, killed a woman and her toddler. By the time I was halfway through the book I was really angry with Mormons generally and with the killers specifically. I was rooting for the death penalty for them—strange for me, considering how strongly I oppose capital punishment. Very thought-provoking stuff, especially when you realize that the Latter-Day Saints constitute the fastest-growing religion in America.

Where was I? Right. Happy Easter. And happy Good Friday, two days late. It’s a bit of a morbid holiday but, from my perspective, it’s the most important one in the Christian pantheon. It trumps Christmas, which was very impressive, what with the virgin birth and all, but suppose Jesus had caught the flu and died as an infant? His adult life was more important than his birth (though, I grant you, he wouldn’t have had an adult life if he hadn’t been born. Obviously.) Far more important is Easter, the conclusive proof for Christians that Jesus was divine. Ha! Try coming back from the dead if you’re NOT the son of God!

But Jesus’ return from the grave is not the crux of the religion. His death is. That’s where the salvation comes from, and that’s why I think Good Friday should be the most celebrated of the Christian holidays. It’s actually really disturbing to think about. My religion is based on the extremely violent death of a perfectly innocent man. You get into heaven thanks to a blood sacrifice.

As I said, I don’t believe that Christianity holds the exclusive key to salvation. But I think it works for a lot of people, and if you’re one of them, cheers! Happy salvation!

Friday marked another important holiday, my twenty-sixth birthday. I got two really awesome gifts, an electric kettle and a coffee/tea press. The electric kettle boils the water in, like, a minute, no exaggeration. It’s amazing. The press allows the water to get cozy with the beans or leaves, far more so than a traditional coffee pot or tea ball. The result is a veritable taste sensation.

Mom and Dad were up for a few days. We did some touristy stuff and Mom visited Hairdresser Jeff. She got an awesome haircut. It looks just like mine in the back, though hers is brown, not fading purplish-red. Then we all played a game of Scrabble. Mom apparently forgot that you’re supposed to let the birthday girl win. Harrumph.

Late that day, Dad figured out how to fix my teevee. It works now! For future visits, we won’t have to sit around in uncomfortable silence! But they left late Friday, possibly because there were no movies to watch, or maybe just because they wanted to drive through the night. So then I called LaFriend, who had gamely offered to make sure that I wasn’t sitting at home by myself on my birthday. We went to Tequila Rose and discussed our cats. Only fanatical cat-lovers think that’s a good way to spend a Friday evening. Me, I don’t think you can beat cat-talk and a pina colada.

I had spent the morning at work. It was a calculated approach: some people stay home on their birthdays, but I was hoping I might get some birthday booty out of them. (Plus it’s hard to get time off, now that Melicent has absconded to Outreach.) They really came through. Bookish Jet got me a birthday card. Youth Services made me a personalized birthday card and all signed their names. Lord knows we never do anything like that for them. Wow!

And Adult Services? Well: let me take this opportunity to formally rescind everything I ever said about my coworkers being bloodthirsty Visigoth sociopaths. There was pizza. There were balloons. Currer Bell loaned me her tiara. Persepolis got a carrot cake from Ukrop’s. And there was a birthday card with personalized messages!

You must realize that no one else in my department has gotten a birthday party, not in the nearly six months I’ve been here. I see two possible explanations:

1. I am the most popular librarian ever.
2. My birthday coincidentally fell on the Friday of a holiday weekend.

Okay, it’s probably choice 2, but I was still really pleased, and I hope it signals a new trend. I’m not saying we need a full-scale party for each birthday (that’d be fourteen parties a year, not counting holidays) but I say we start getting cards for one another, and maybe do quarterly birthday parties.

My only complaint was that I didn’t get World Peace like I had asked for. Come on, people, we can do better. Let’s get working on that for next year.


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Cormac McCarthy
By Jessica Zellers

Literary Fiction

Most critics consider Cormac McCarthy to be the greatest living American writer. This may or may not be true, and Lord knows I’m not the one to say one way or the other, but please bear in mind that many critics do not know a good book from a hole in the ground. For that matter, most critics wouldn’t know a hole in the ground from a hole in the ground. They’ve forgotten what ground looks like, having not emerged from their ivory towers since Eisenhower was considering a run for the presidency.

Cormac McCarthy wrote Blood Meridian, Or, Abstruse Subtitle, and some other books, too. Blood Meridian is a Western, kind of. It’s definitely set in the West. There are cowboys and Indians and gunfights. That’s how you can tell it’s a Western. But it gets confusing. There’s this preacher, see, and he’s a bad guy. This is contrary to everything we expect. Preachers are normally good guys, but McCarthy turns him into evil incarnate. This sort of devious switcheroo is a hallmark of Literary Fiction. Regular genre writers, commonly known as “hacks,” are not capable of sophisticated plot subversions. That’s why Blood Meridian isn’t really a Western, though unworldly readers might think otherwise.

Annie Proulx is tricky like that, too. Stay away from her. You think you’re reading a Western and suddenly you realize it’s Literary Fiction, and gay Literary Fiction at that. If you’re determined to read Brokeback Mountain, just rent the movie.

Cormac McCarthy wrote a book called Outer Dark, which I was supposed to read for a Contemporary Novels class, but unfortunately I had to drop the course. I say “unfortunately” because the professor was really hot. His name is Michael Parker. You may have heard of him. He’s written some books and, though he’s not widely known, they’ve been very well received. I tried reading some of them and I couldn’t even begin to slog my way through, but like I said, this guy is really hot. It’s a shame I dropped the class.

Right. Outer Dark. I’m not going to talk about it because it’s about this brother and sister and their kid. Or maybe it’s not entirely about that. I only read the first two chapters. But still, that’s gross. Yeech.

Readers new to McCarthy should not try any of his books. They’re just too hard. Fortunately, they can fake it. Oprah’s doing The Road, so all they have to do is watch her show to pretend like they’ve read it. This is exactly the same approach they’ve taken with all of Oprah’s other picks, so why change now? (But really, Oprah, would it kill you to pick a fun book now and again? Like… something with vampires?)


My understanding of history is a bit shaky, but as best I can tell, McCarthy was responsible for hunting down Arthur Miller because—this is where it gets confusing—because he was practicing witchcraft. Maybe that is why he broke up with Marilyn Monroe. Miller, I mean, not McCarthy. Arthur Miller isn’t a read-alike for McCarthy by any stretch of the imagination, but that witch-hunt thing just wasn’t fair. You should read The Crucible, rather than Death of a Salesman, because Death of a Salesman is just depressing. The Crucible won’t exactly brighten your day, but it has witches, which I consider to be an acceptable substitute when you can’t have vampires. And the movie has Daniel Day-Lewis, who is hot.

I haven’t read The Road, but I did check it out, which is practically the same thing. Nebedchudnezzar gave me a plot summary, nearly all of which I’ve forgotten, but I do remember that it was set in the post-Apocalypse. In that vein, I suggest that fans of McCarthy try the Left Behind series, which is also set in the post-Apocalypse. Kind of. Post-Rapture, at any rate. Whereas it takes an hour of intense concentration to read and understand a chapter of McCarthy, your average tennis shoe can grasp the plot of Left Behind, to wit, fundamentalist Christians = good, Muslims and gays = bad. The ease of comprehension makes for a nice change after struggling with McCarthy.

Sometimes McCarthy sets his books in the South. The Andy Griffith show is set in the South. See the connection? The show features a likeable sheriff, his goofy sidekick, and an adorable little boy. They get into zany situations and resolve their dilemmas with good-natured, heart-warming humor. McCarthy fans will eat this stuff up.

“Cormac” is a funny name. I don’t know what it means, but it rhymes with “tarmac.” I don’t know what “tarmac” means either, so I decided to google it. I found this website: This company is a “Supplier of aggregates and asphalt, also offering infrastructure maintenance, recycling environmental services.” I still don’t know what “tarmac” means, but McCarthy fans can spend a few minutes goofing around on the site.

Finally, fans of McCarthy would do well to read Neil Gaiman. I cannot argue that McCarthy and Gaiman are alike, at all, whatsoever, in any way, other than in a broad philosophical sense, i.e., they both write books. But I think fans of anybody would do well to read Neil Gaiman. He is really, really hot, and I love his books. You want zombies? Witches? Creepy undead? Funny British humor? You got it! I got to shake Neil Gaiman’s hand, did I ever mention that? Plus, my buddy Ian is friends with Neil. By extension, so am I. How cool is that?