Monday, June 25, 2007

New to the TBR List

My library has this really cool feature in its website: My Bookshelf . I read reviews weekly and am usually a month or so behind. This actually works out to my advantage because by the time I read the review the item or its order note is already in the catalog.

I just sign in to My Account, look for the title, and save it to my bookshelf. Bingo! No more lost lists. No more typing even. I love my bookshelf.

New TBR this week:
The Book of Names By Gregory, Jill and Tintori, Karen
The Garden of Ruth By Etzioni Halevy, Eva

Today's Musical Motif
"Pie Jesu" from Andrew Lloyd Weber's Requiem as sung by Cathy Bixby, Carol Paul and the First Congregational Church Chancel Choir. (Bender Anthem Series: Cedar Rapids, IA. 2004)

Still Reading

OK, so it has been a weird week yesterday's read was not by T.D. Jakes but by Shannon Holmes and called Dirty Game. It has left me with a big 'ol case of...cogitation. I've gone halfway through and that's as far as I'm going to go.

The first half isn't bad. It works for what it is. A good story set in a dark urban street environment. About halfway through the story ends...and then repeats itself in a minor key. When I realized that I gave up and skipped to the end.

Destiny's destiny is predictable although I'm sure how she gets there is filled with precarious turns and street language and other stereotyped behaviors. Questions of value to any young person at any time in history are raised throughout. The characters rarely voice these questions but their actions will lead the prudent reader to ask these questions.

It's a nicely woven tale and it fills the bill as a genre. It uses Soap Opera techniques to bring up questions and that's a valid approach. Soaps are not all bad. In the 1980s, General Hospital raised many a college-student's debate skills as the Luke and Laura rape scene was debated, rehashed, and debated again. Consciousness was raised. So be it.

To some it's dull. To some it's tedious. To others it's an effective way to tell a tale and raise questions. I get now why the kids dig the Urban Lit and its value in my library. I have accomplished my goal. Fair enough!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Reading/Listening Update

What I'm Reading
I'm still reading the Jakes novel. I think I'm getting why there are so many enthusiastic readers this kind of literature. The story draws you in, so that's a point in its favor. Yes, it uses soap-opera-like technique. So what? The novel is not pretending to be Great Literature. The novel is telling a tale with a hidden moral and using the most expedient method to capture our attention.

I like how the characters struggle with right and wrong - or don't struggle as the case may be. I feel the anger the characters experience when faced with a cold, hard look at their living situation. I can see why the writer feels that racism is keeping the neighborhood depicted down. I think he's wrong, but I definitely understand how that conclusion could be drawn. And who knows? Maybe he's right. I haven't finished it yet. Those are my first impressions.

Something about it also vaguely resembles parts of Richard Wright's Native Son. I expect this novel will end with a more optimistic outlook. Are we destined to a hard life, lawlessness, and questionable morals because of our place of birth and color? Or is it something we can put aside in favor of another outcome? The struggle of Destiny, Jake's main character, as she works through these questions is food for thought.

No, it is not a masterpiece of Literature. Yes, the use of idiomatic speech is slow going and a bit scandalizing to someone who, like myself, is an outsider to that culture. And yet it succeeds. This book and others in the Urban Lit genre are providing one group of African-Americans a place to safely explore the challenges they face - whether living down-and-out or not. It will be interesting to see if this book heads in the direction I believe it will.

Current Audio-Book
Still listening to the Cornwell. I could live without the gore but that's how it was I expect. Cornwell's research is always good. And the viking outlook on life is well-contrasted to the English. The English come off as downright idiotic prudes while the vikings come off as practical, if violent, raiders. T. Coraghessan Boyle's short story "We Are Norsemen" springs to mind. Viking humor - you gotta love it. "We are Norsemen, we are bold..."

Current Musical Motif
By the grace of God my brain has moved on from Randall Thompson's "Alleluia" to "Every Mountain" whose composer's name I have forgotten. It might have been Dunn. I'll update when I find it. All the songs I sang in the church choir with my father are wandering through my brain nowdays. I already miss my father.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Triangle by Katherine Weber

For this musician and history lover this book was ideal. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire has always stuck in my mind not only because of its tragedy but for its place in industrialization, labor history, and women's history. This book takes those threads and interweaves them with genetics and music and ends up creating family and community.

Rest assured that protein-strands as music and mathematical concepts as form are explored thoroughly here. And it is done in a way that is neither dull nor didactic. The ending combines those concepts and family and secrets in a musical composition that is presented effectively in words.

It sounds heavy. It isn't. It's a fast and fascinating read. The interconnectivity of each person, each family, and each community is explored, dissected, and arranged for a satisfying end.

What I'm Reading Next:
I've not read much Urban Lit so it's time. I have an RA copy of Dirty Game by Shannon Holmes. I'm looking forward to seeing how this type of literature has increased the diversity of my clientele and seek clues about how to continue to make these new users comfortable in the library.

What I'm Listening to:
Still have Cornwell in the car

What I'm Watching:
Hell's Kitchen. I don't know why. I just like it

Musical Motif du jour:
This continues to be Randall Thompson's "Alleluia." Why? Because it's something I can almost sing from memory even though I haven't sung it in 20 years. Because I sang it at school choir and at church choir. Because Dad always chuckled when he got my old church choir copy which was copiously annotated. I had to separate the way my HS director directed the piece from how our church choir directed the piece. My notations are very Booktender-specific. And because Dad has stage 4 cancer just now and we are heading to a finale. There are worse musical motifs to be stuck on.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The TBR list continues...

When I read reviews I always have a notepad at the ready. In fact, I carry a padfolio with me wherever I go in libraryland. Most precisely, I carry the Crocodile-Trim Padfolio by Buxton, in red. Not surprisingly, my opposite number in International Languages carries the same item but in a manly black. Which is nice. Because he's a man.

As I wander through the day I jot down what I need to or want to remember. Anything from a grocery item to a website to an overstimulated-library-user-inspired haiku. Most frequently I jot things I need to remember to order, authors I need to check our holdings for, and books to add to my reading list. Books to be read or, in library-lingo: TBR.

A lot of times I write something down, stick it in my to-be-ordered/checked file (tbo/cf) and don't see it again for weeks. When my tbo/cf gets large enough or the budget is large enough, I go through and review my possibilities. In the process, I come across titles with the word: READ beside them. Sometimes I know why. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes the moment is past. Mostly, it's an archeological dig.

Today, I came across this cryptic note: Read Klasky, Mindy Girls Guide to Witchcraft. Sounds like chick-lit. I don't really enjoy chick-lit. It's really more for the younger crowd and good on 'em, right?

So, let's check the catalog:
Red Dress Inc. Publishes chick-lit but...AHA! It's a Romance. One point in its favor right off the bat. Let's look at the annotation..."a librarian who finds a world-class collection on witchcraft." A librarian romance? This keeps getting better and better!

A click on the review button and I discover the BookList, October 15, 2006 review..."fashion-challenged librarian..." budget, salary, and hours cut...(this sounds familiar)...Ah...sympathetic soul lets her live rent-free in a cottage (ooooh...this could get...gothic).

And in the cottage? "...she discovers a hidden key that unlocks the door to the basement, which is filled with a wide array of witchcraft books. Jane is even more surprised when she recites a spell and it works, calling forth a familiar in the form of a handsome, cheeky gay man and bringing a stern but sexy warder, David, to her door"

OK, 'nuff said. It's a little off the beaten track for me but a librarian, a romance, a cheeky gay pal and a sexy warder? What the heck, put it on the TBR electronic bookshelf in my personalized chunk of the catalog.

Underneath my notation for this prospective gem, I see a more ominous note: Charles Bukowski Women. Why would I jot that down? Did I mean to read it? Once again we go to the catalog for clarification. ...ok...looks like he wrote this around 1978. All we have in the catalog is an excerpt from the Sparrow Press edition. We don't even have the edition anymore. Vaporized

Not What I Was Looking For. Nope, that must have been a note to order as we no longer have copies. Which is a mega-bummer because those Sparrow Press editions are good stuff, straddling the line(s) between art, quality materials, and practicality.

Next up: Karen Rose Don't Tell...catalog check...Hey! I read this in the publisher's proof! It was pretty good. But no TBR for you!

OK, so only Girl's Guide to Witchcraft made my "bookshelf" feature on the catalog. It will wait there until I read it.

Then there are the things we "should" ourselves into reading. I'm a professional Booktender, so it's not too much to expect me to read outside my beloved romance genre and, I confess, I have not read much Inspirational/Christian Fiction.

It's a good idea for me to delve in there once in a while. After all, I serve that population too. Fortune smiled in the shape of a Reader's Advance (RA) copy of Linda Windsor's Piper Cove Chronicles novel Wedding Bell Blues. I grabbed a Reader's Advance (RA) copy so, unlike those I have to wait for, I can take it home and put it on the TBR pile (not to be confused with the TBR bookshelf on our catalog.)

Over at LibraryThing photographic TBR piles has become a minor artform. Someday I'll have to indulge.

I also happened across an RA of Shannon Holmes' Dirty Game. This is a novel of the Urban/hip-hop/bling lit genre. Definitely another world for me. But wow, what a world.

I'm getting a lot of 18-24 yo african-american women (and a few males) coming in for this type of book. That's impressive. That's really unusual for this neck of the woods. I'm trying to keep that genre well-stocked as I want this demographic to feel welcome to libraryland. Might as well give this book a good skim to see what's really shakin'.

So, today's TBR bookshelf/pile had 5 candidates. 1 made the bookshelf and 2 made the pile. 1 had been read previously and 1 was a red herring.

Congratulations to our winners and thanks everybody for playing our game!

What I'm Reading Now: Triangle b Katherine Weber

What I'm Listening to Now: Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

What I'm watching on TV: It's summer reality time. So You Think You Can Dance? Hell's Kitchen, Top Chef, and Pirate Master. I confess I'm looking forward to Big Brother. I'm enjoying Traveler this summer but hope it picks up the pace a little. Props to CBS for Doing the Right Thing and picking up Jericho for another season.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What I'm Reading Now

Reading: Triangle: A Novel
(see http://www.powells.com/biblio/17-0374281424-0)
Almost a beach read but slightly heavier. Perhaps a rainy-day beach read. I'm not far into it yet. The descriptions of character's thoughts and emotions seem good. The use of mathematics and music is thought-provoking. I'm interested to see how this ends up.

Listening: The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. Not even through the first disk yet. Could be good driving words. Cornwell does a lot of research so that may be useful in keeping my interest.

Added to the TBR list:
Blood Brothers and High Noon By Roberts, Nora

Force of Nature By Brockmann, Suzanne

(The Roberts and Brockmann titles are too new to have descriptions yet)

INNOCENT AS SIN By Lowell, Elizabeth

The Execution Channel By MacLeod, Ken

Oh Mr. Gorman...


Making Friends and Influencing People as usual:
I've listened to these three librarians for the past 18 years. Mr. Gorman, you really shouldn't tick them off.
Now I have to go out and figure out a way to label my blog so no one will ever mistake it for a printed resource that is More Valuable than anything else on earth.

Monday, June 11, 2007

On reviews and Essay Reviews

The NBCC is having a major hissy about large newspapers jettisoning their reviewers. OK, I can understand that. Librarians got kind of nervous when the internet started stomping on our toes, too.

Here's the deal. I don't like long essay-style in-depth academic essay reviews. I prefer brief book-talk reviews. Tell me what's hot about the book and what's not. Convince me to read or not to read it. I prefer the lower-case review. The book-talk review.

There are many people who enjoy the longer essay-reviews. I have two colleagues who absolutely wallow in them. English majors would be lost without them. They are valuable to intellectual inquiry and literature studies. I found them very helpful when studying for my English Lit. degree. Bravo!

Here's the problem. Do they belong in to a newspaper that is actually catering to the average Joe and Jill? Sadly, probably not. (I'm leaving the New York Times and Washington Post out of this discussion. They're Different.)

Review essays are literature. Let's treat them as such. I mean some of this is good stuff. Really insightful and, darn it, incredible reasoning. Well-written, even. It is literature. Publish it in academic literature or literary magazines where the audience that appreciates it will find it.

For the rest of us, just give us the book-talk review. Adapt. If librarians can do it, so can book reviewers.

Best Wishes!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Pesthouse by Jim Crace

Whoa...this book is a trip. I never know what to think when someone says some else's prose is "lyrical" or "hallucinogenic." I only know that this guy is a darn good writer. I'm surprised and not surprised that this book received mixed reviews.

First off, there's that whole "how can a Brit write about America" thing. Well pish-tosh, what Mr. Crace has written isn't just about America. It could have been set in England. Or Germany. Substitute any technologically advanced culture. It works. Eco-disaster? Could happen. Ancient collapsed highways? Already happened in Britain.

Then there's the "it isn't as good as his previous works" argument. I'm just going to brush that one aside. Yes. Blatantly. What is Good? Incredibly dense prose that leads to a morally ambiguous or, preferably, dismal conclusion? Message to Big Newspaper Reviewers: a happy ending can be Good too. And you wonder why the Big Newspapers are jettisoning Book Reviewers?

And now the truth can be known. It isn't as "good" as his previous works because it ends happily and it follows a somewhat predictable path. ...hmmm...happy ending...form-based...Holy Cow! It's Genre!!!!! Oh Mr. Crace, how far you have fallen! You have written a somewhat romantic post-apocalyptic adventure tale!

Out! Out of the Academic Halls of Those Who Know Best!

As you can see, I find most of the negative reviews to be bull-crap. Read the work for its own merits. Apply your own standards. Here are mine:
Does it hold my interest?
Are the characters well-developed?
When scenery must be described is it done vividly?
Does the prose plod away or does it spring to life?
Would a 17 year-old male or female with age-appropriate reading skills be able to read it, be challenged by it, and understand it?

I'm sure I have more standards, but those are 5 of the ones I can think of. A book that a) holds my interest and b)meets 2 of the other standards above is something I might read. The Pesthouse meets all five and then some.

I was pulled into the dystopia and enjoyed it. You may, too.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Brushes with the Newsworthy

Hats off to Gov. Richardson of NM! He is the first presidential candidate this year to make use of our graciously-appointed building. Can Kucinich be far behind?