Monthly Archives: May 2007

The Day the Martians Came

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Several times I’ve written obsessively about the tiny, minute details of maintaining my book displays. It occurs to me now that some of you may not, in fact, be riveted by a blow-by-blow account of what books circulate. If you are among those who are not enthralled with the minutia of my book display saga, you have my deepest sympathies, because clearly you are to be pitied. It is sad that you are handicapped with such base sensibilities.

For those of you in this category, those of you whose appreciation for art is on par with that of the common turnip, I offer this brief diversion, related in sentences of simple syntax and elementary construction:

Today at the library I carefully monitored my book displays. I watched the behavior of the people who looked at my books. The people who didn’t take my books were in big trouble. I attacked them with kung fu. The people who did take my books got to have sex with Nicole Kidman or Johnny Depp. The people who took a book from each of my displays got to have sex with Nicole Kidman and Johnny Depp at the same time. Then the Martians came. That was my day.

Now, for the rest of you:

First understand that I have two displays going. One of them is called Real Men Read Fiction. I’m sharing responsibility for it with Alyosha, and between the two of us, there are some very manly books going up there. We’ve got your noir, your military, your hard SF, your Westerns, your blood-n-guts graphic novels, your spy books, your… your everything with too much testosterone.

(It is interesting to note that I like nearly all of the books on the display. Makes for interesting commentary on my gender.)

For the most part, this has been an incredibly successful display. Even books that don’t normally circulate have been going out—books like The Three Musketeers, a fantastic novel, but one which suffers the stigma of being a classic.

The other display is not really mine, though I do have one shelf on it. It is the Staff Suggestions display, and I’ve had a devil of a time trying to get anything to move on it. Quite a while ago I gave up on the idea of promoting quirky, off-the-beaten path titles. Other staff members were having success with approach, but not me. At one point I had actually included an Ann Rice book. That’s cheating, that is. She’s already popular. People are going to check her out whether I recommend her or not.

Except if she were on my shelf. That was the one way to make sure Ann Rice did not circulate.

 

Today I got fed up with everything and decided to just display some books I really liked, books that probably didn’t have a prayer of circulating. Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman, was the only real shot I had. The Thomas Perry was an excellent thriller, but Perry doesn’t have the name recognition he deserves. And Fables: Legends in Exile, was unlikely to move because it’s a graphic novel.

“Too bad so many people won’t even try to read a graphic novel,” I said to Persepolis. “I bet a lot of them would like this book.”

“Okay, I’ll try it,” she said.

I blinked in surprise. I hadn’t been trying to push the book on her, but hey, I wasn’t going to complain.

It was a sympathy circulation, though, and I knew it. But what the heck, I felt good. I felt so pleased that I decided to put my favorite novel ever on the display. No way in hell would The Brothers Karamazov ever circulate, but I had had my victory. Further circulations were beyond my humble librarian station in life.

Then, sometime after lunch, I stepped out of the back room and realized the Dostoevsky was missing.

“Ha,” I said to Assert-y. “Hilarious. Who’s playing a joke on me, you or Persepolis?”

But it was no joke. The unthinkable had happened.

Someone, with absolutely no coercion, had willingly selected The Brothers Karamazov from my display.

Could have died and gone to heaven at that point. I was touched by God. I replaced Bros. K. with Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys is a brilliant, criminally-underappreciated literary genius and social critic. Seems like no one’s ever heard of her, but with my recent run of good luck, anything could happen,

Real Men Read Fiction has been successful as a whole, yes, but there are a few titles that have staunchly refused to budge. Those books that didn’t circulate after a week were discretely removed and replaced with Michael Connelly.

The one book that didn’t get ousted was an anthology of gay fiction. I knew full well that no one would read it, that some people may have been offended by the presence of the book, but gay men are men too and by golly they were going to be represented on my display.

It took twenty-four days, but someone finally checked it out.

Then.

Then.

This evening I realized that someone was looking at Anansi Boys. I held my breath. I crossed my fingers. And…

And he put it in his book basket.

I could have cried for joy.

Then.

Then, then, then.

He picked up Wide Sargasso Sea.

I felt faint. I walked over to the guy and commended him on his superb reading taste.

We had a lengthy discussion about books and authors. That was the most high-energy readers’ advisory interview I’ve ever conducted in my life.

And, as a final, glorious coda, he picked up the third and final book on my shelf, the Thomas Perry thriller.

Then the Martians came.

All Your Database Are Belong To Us

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Remember All Your Base Are Belong to Us?

It was the basis of my subject heading when I alerted the staff to a new database document. I turned it into “All Your Database Are Belong to Us.” On both ethical and biological grounds, it is impossible for me to write a document that doesn’t have an element of humor (or attempted humor, at least). My body is hard-wired for puns. Ya know how, when you drink too much, you lose your inhibitions and your real self comes out? When I drink too much, the puns come out. When you consider how much I pun while sober, it is a frightening prospect.

I’ve worked on databases a lot this month. It’s time to decide which subscriptions we’re going to maintain, which we’re going to add, and—here’s the bloodthirsty part—which we’re going to drop. Personally, I’d like to send LitFinder to the gallows. LitFinder is great in theory: it has the fulltext of poems and short stories and other short bits of literature. Problem is, I can never find what I’m looking for on it. F’example, a lady this week was trying to find the text of a Langston Hughes poem. She knew the first two lines. With that info, it took me somewhat less than a second to find the full text and title with google. But just for kicks I tried the same test with LitFinder and got nothing.

At a staff meeting later this week, Persepolis is going to try to defend the honor of LitFinder. I’m arguing for the death penalty. Alternately, we could skip the court trial and fight it out, woman to woman, in a duel. Let God pick the victor.

Speaking of God and Persepolis, we discussed Mark Salzman’s Lying Awake at our staff book club today. Persepolis led the discussion and fed us this divine spinach artichoke cheese stuff.

I was extraordinarily impressed with Salzman’s writing style. The man does lovely, terse, atmosphere-building things with words. He reminded me of Jean Rhys, the best underappreciated author of the twentieth century. Rhys has the same gift with language. The sentences seem simple and straightforward, but by the time you’ve read a few chapters you realize you’re in over your head. The thing to remember with Rhys is that she writes dark, bleak, oppressive fiction. Her writing will suck you in, but it’s not always a safe place to go. Only attempt Rhys if you have a loving, supportive family.

So. Salzman is reminiscent of Rhys. That’s about the highest compliment I can give anyone.

However.

Lying Awake is Literary Fiction. LiFi is a genre characterized by A) pretentious prose, B) no plot, and C) my aversion to it. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: Literary Fiction suffers from a disheartening lack of vampires, aliens, ticking bombs, and murders that happened in locked rooms. Sure, you can write fiction without those things, but… but why? Life’s too short.

That I liked Lying Awake at all says quite a lot for it.

Lying Awake raises questions about faith, inspiration, and religion. It also raised a fine book discussion this afternoon. I bit my tongue a lot of times. I disagreed with, oh, nearly everything Bookish Jet said, but I know she and I will be able to discuss things at great length over dinner, so I tabled most of that for later. Also, I didn’t want to hog the discussion. I dominate conversations if I don’t check myself. Happened all the time in college, but I’m not apologizing. I only hogged the conversation when no one else had read the book.

The only thing I’ll say here regarding today’s discussion is that God can be neither proved nor disproved, not by human means. I suppose if I were to witness a bona fide miracle I’d have proof, but it would have to be something supernatural. The miracles of thunderstorms and birth, for instance, have natural causes, i.e. storm clouds and whoops-I-forgot-the-condom-baby-but-don’t-worry-I-can-handle-it.  

But though we can’t prove God in a laboratory, we can’t disprove her, either. (Or him. Or His Noodly Appendage. Whatever floats your boat.) That’s why I’m skeptical of people who claim to know that God does or does not exist. Believe whatever you want, but you can’t prove it either way.

Though I have mixed feelings about Lying Awake (would it have killed him to throw in a werewolf? Just one?), it was a fabulous discussion with other members of the intelligentsia. That’s my idea of a social interaction. In a perfect world there would have been wine, and consequently more puns, but otherwise it was brilliant.

As I was driving home, I had NPR playing. It’s been my source of news this week. Normally I get my news through Bloglines, but for the past week I haven’t even checked it. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by all the information out there, so I ignore the news and hide with my books in the evening. If something very important happens, I figure other people will tell me.

Aside: Indeed, Bookish Jet told me about Falwell’s death. It is tactless, undignified, and unworthy to rejoice over anyone’s death, so I’m not gonna. Let me just say that I’m glad his particular brand of poison will no longer be coming from him.

Poison, you say? Here’s my favorite Falwell quote, from September 13, 2001: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”

Like I was saying, I was listening to NPR on the drive home, but instead of news it was playing classical. Usually this makes me happy, because I get to play Name That Tune. First I try to guess the era (Pre-Baroque, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern), then the composer, and then the piece. Guessing the piece is not always as hard as it sounds. Unless the composer gets creative (“Pines of the Apian Way” or “Entry March of the Boyars,”) it’s likely to be “Sonata in A-flat” or “Adagio” or “Second Movement.”

I didn’t feel like playing, though, because the tune was this prissy piano thingy and I just wasn’t in the mood for it. Fortunately there’s a new classical station out of Wilhelmsplatz, so I flipped over to it.

It was playing a prissy piano thingy.

I flipped back. Prissy piano.

Flipped back again. Prissy piano… good grief, was it the same piece?

Flip. Same meter.

Flip. Same key.

Flip. Same rhythm.

Flip. Same damn tune. Of all the classical music ever composed in the Western ever-lovin’ hemisphere, my two stations have to pick the same one to play at the same time. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata number 25, it was. (I had guessed Schubert.) It’s prissy.

Got home and changed shoes. I had been wearing the sexiest pair of heels ever. “Fuck Me” heels, they’re sometimes called, though I assure you, the vernacular is misleading. Got several compliments on them today, including some from patrons. I made myself proud by not twisting my ankle, not once. Also managed to negotiate the gas pedal, the brake, and the clutch. I do object to high heels for practical reasons (they’re hell on the back) and feminist reasons (patriarchy blows), but gosh, they’re gorgeous.

Had to change shoes for my walk over to the thrift store. The recent hot weather has made me realize that I don’t own any clothes. Sure, I have two closets full, but none of them fit right a
nd they’re all ugly and I hate them.

Wound up with three shirts, a skirt that doesn’t quite fit but if I eat salads for a week it will, and a ceramic chicken for mom. (Mom, pretend you didn’t just read that.)

Then—here is the most exciting part of my day—on the walk back, I saw a brown furry animal on the other side of the guard rail.

“Beaver!” I said. It looked at me.

“Um… Groundhoggy?” It disappeared under some weeds.

Thrilling, isn’t it? I saw a wild animal! In the wild! I am a regular Crocodile Hunter!

Make Like a Banana

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…And split. That’s what I did today, for the first time ever. That’d be one leg in front, one leg in back, and one torso plunked perpendicular to the ground. Then I did it again, switching the legaroos.

This new ability serves absolutely no practical purpose. It does not make me a better librarian. It does not improve my reading comprehension. It contributes nothing to the cleanliness of my home. In no way shape or form does it help with the bills. But I can do a split and it’s really cool. Besides, it shows that I’ve been making progress in yoga.

Okay, theoretically, I can imagine a practical purpose, one of a sexual nature, but theory ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Watched the Kentucky Derby last night. I know this is difficult for you to comprehend. There are only two ways this could have happened, and both explanations are outlandish: either I went to Kentucky to watch it in person, or I watched it on a television.

I assure you, I was not in Kentucky last night. I had to work this weekend. Could have managed it if I had apparated, but I have not yet worked out the kinks of instantaneous teleportation. It’s only a matter of time, of course. My research will pay off one of these days.

The only remaining explanation, however unlikely, must be the answer. I watched it on teevee. I do own a television, yes, but for the express purposes of playing video games or watching yoga DVDs. I wouldn’t know how to make it play a television show if my life depended on it.

I watched the derby at La Friend’s house. She hosted a Cinco de Mayo party for us Adult Services folks. Honestly, I don’t have the first clue what Cinco de Mayo’s all about. Something to do with Mexico, I’ve gathered that much, and it happens reliably every May 5th. Beyond that I couldn’t tell you much, though I do know it involves margaritas. And also there was a papier mache bull that was filled with chocolates, though we only discovered this after savagely attacking it with a pole. Amazing the brutality a group of librarians will sink to, once they’ve imbibed a little.

So that was a fun evening, though it would have been funner if Nathaniel Philbrick had shown. He’s a big famous author, and he was supposed to speak at the liberry that night, but his plane flight was delayed. Poor man was stuck in Charlotte.

Mr. Philbrick won a National Book Award. This is a special award given to people who write books I don’t like.

Actually, that’s not true. I like Pete Hautman just fine. His NBA winner, Godless, didn’t do it for me, but his other books are good. His book The Prop is just divine, a noirish mysteryish quick read. The NBA only goes to stinkers.

Apparently I have a weird multiple personality reading disorder. I like the classics very much. If it’s in the literary canon, there’s a very good chance I’ll love the book. Classic fiction is my favorite genre. You’d think I’d like literary fiction, but I don’t. I just don’t. I find most of it boring and unsatisfying. Go figure.

So anyway. Philbrick. I read his whole stupid book this week, putting off other, more pressing duties (revised book proposal, anyone?) to finish Mayflower before he gave his author talk, and then he doesn’t even show. Wasn’t his fault, but still. I rearranged my whole week to read a book I didn’t like and I don’t even get the satisfaction of hearing the author speak. What about MY needs?

My problem with Mayflower is that it was dry. I learned lots of Important Facts about the Pilgrims and King Philip’s War, but it was all so very dull. Such a fascinating period of history, too. What a shame.

The problem is that there was very little social history. I got no sense of the daily life of the ordinary people. What were the kids doing each day? What sort of prayers were the Pilgrims saying? What clothes did they wear? What fabric did those clothes come from, anyway? What was a marriage ceremony like?

What did women do before tampons, anyway?

Lots of people like Mayflower, though, so don’t take my word for it. And, to be fair, that’s not the book that won the NBA. Maybe In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is a scintillating read. I’ll never know.

And now, though it is merely midnight, it’s time for bed. I’ve got a long day of book proposal rewriting ahead of me tomorrow. But that’s okay. I enjoy going to bed, because it means I get to do Legs Up the Wall. I don’t know how to say that in Hindi, but the English translation for this yoga pose is very descriptive. These days (or nights, rather) I’ve been settling into bed with Legs Up the Wall, an excellent pose for improving circulation and inducing calm. I lie on my back, put my butt right against the wall, and hoist my legs on up. Might sound crazy, but it’s a wonderfully relaxing way to fall asleep.

Much easier than doing a split, let me tell ya.

Cave-ing in to Pressure

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Between now and, let’s see, just to be safe… between now sometime in September or so, I’m going to be hiding in a cave, one of the very deep echoing sorts with tunnels and hidden pools and bug-eyed hissing creatures celebrating their birthdays.

Why the need for utter seclusion from the encroachment of humanity?

Because my region of the country is about to go apeshit. Every tourist in the world, including the Queen of England herself, is going to be visiting the area to celebrate America’s Four Hundredth.

(Funny aside: was working on a readers’ advisory submission the other day. Under “preferred settings,” the person had helpfully written “former British colonies.” Ahem. EVERYWHERE is a former British colony. Sun never sets on the British Empire, and whatnot. Made my job pretty easy, actually.)

“America’s Four Hundredth Anniversary” is an insulting phrase, and difficult to spell. Had to use spell-check to get “hundredth” right. Jamestown was settled four hundred years ago. Definitely important. Very historical. But it is not the birth of the country.

For the moment let’s ignore the Indians, which is very easy to do, considering this country’s long, proud tradition of doing exactly that. Nevermind that they’ve been here SINCE THE LAST ICE AGE. It’s easy to overlook.

But the English gents who set up shop in Jamestown didn’t found the first permanent European settlement. The Spanish did that with St. Augustine in Florida in 1565. So let’s think about this logically: if we want to celebrate America’s Four Hundredth Anniversary (Of Permanent European Invasion), we have to travel 659 miles south and forty-two years back in time.

But try telling THAT to the tourists.

Don’t get me wrong. I love history, more than most people. I even have a degree in history, Russian history. It is a completely useless degree, unless I am in the presence of people who want to discuss the ways in which Lenin’s vision differed from Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and believe me, folks: that’s a completely hypothetical situation, one that exists only in my private fantasies.

FANTASY:

I am sitting quietly on a park bench, reading Lenin’s famous treatise, “What Is To Be Done?”. I am wearing a slinky red sequiny dress, which is not very practical for a stroll in the park, but it looks stunning. Also, I’m twenty pounds lighter.

A group of uncommonly attractive, hyper-educated liberals approaches. They all have good credit, healthy track records in relationships, and progressive attitudes re: monogamy and sexual exploration. None of them live in their parents’ basements.

“What would that document have been like if Trotsky had been the author?” one of them asks.

“He would have been even more supportive of the working class than Lenin was, if that’s possible,” responds another.

“Well,” I retort, “that’s certainly a Menshevik opinion.”

We erupt into gales of laughter and disappear into the sunset.

(Kay, let me explain the punchline. During Lenin’s rise to power, he had only a small number of followers. But in a brilliant PR move, he named his party the Bolsheviks. “Bolshevik” means “majority” in Russian. Everyone else, even though they had numbers on their side, was relegated to the “Menshevik,” or “minority,” party. Excellent propaganda.)

I majored in Russian history because I like Russian literature. I wanted context for my favorite novels. I have “nerd” painted on my forehead in big, legible letters.

We have now established that I like history to a rather pathetic degree. I think it’s a fascinating subject, and I’m happy that people want to come learn about colonial America.

But I hate crowds. During May, while all the festivities are going on, I think I’ll hide quietly with some books and a flashlight, unless I can find a cave with electrical outlets. Send some spelunkers after me if I don’t show up for work.