Short answer? They're yummy reads

I can't fully explain why I like Julian Barnes' work, but I do. There's an elegance to much of his prose that I enjoy - it's like eating a good book (readers will know what I mean). I've even gone so far as to special order books that aren't available in America. It's nice to read more about him, and the process behind Arthur & George.


Reading Update

There are certain books I usually avoid. Not necessarily those from a specific genre, or anything bearing an Oprah's Club sticker (although I will admit that those aren't my first choice of reading, just because)... not, I usually avoid anything to do with the Holocaust. Why? Because I grew up in a synagogue run (it seems) by Survivors. They meant well, but the Jewish education I got basically dealt with Abraham/Isaac/Jacob, Masada and then the Nazis. Year after year of that - nothing about the supposed joy of being Jewish, the contributions Jews made to the world, etc. They occasionally talked about pogroms, just for spice. There were films and talks and books, all about why They wanted to kill Us. By 9th grade, I'd had enough. I won't go to Schindler's List, I won't re-read Night. I've overdosed on that topic and just won't do it.

My experience on September 11th has left me feeling much the same: no need to see any of the movies, or read any of the books. It was too close (I don't need to relive the fear and panic I felt when I realized that I might lose Thing One)... too personal...

So, what has this got to do with my reading? Well, as you can see on the sidebar, I've just started The Zero. It's about a policeman living in the aftermath of That Day, working (for the moment) in That Place. He's having mini-blackouts, where he has no idea what's happend, and his son is treating him as though he died There.

I didn't intend to pick it up, but I did (at ALA, of course), and now that I'm reading it, I'm sort of enjoying it. Perhaps it's because it's about the aftermath, or perhaps it's because there's a mystery about what's wrong with him (and his future role helping with recovering documents for some shadowy people). In either case, it's easy for me to pretend that this isn't about That Day, that it's really a work of fiction.

We'll see how the rest goes.


Unfortunately correct

Daniel Handler comments: "I think books have always been viral. Someone reads them and they tell people about them. That’s the best way to hear about a book." (รพ: Grumpy Old Bookman)

That's how I hear about many of the books I read: via viral verbiage (sorry, it's his alliterative influence). The interesting thing is that when I go to Amazon, their "recommendations" are so rarely on target that I cease to look at them - I try to stay with Powells for my on-line book shopping. Ditto Netflix. It's far more usual for me to go to an on-line store looking for a specific author/actor and find additional items from there. It's a semi-serendipity, and I much prefer that to hoping that something they recommend will fit.

It goes back to the browsing question - yes, "real" stores may have less of a selection, but I get a better sense of whether the item is really for me, or if I'll give it a pass.

Notable Quotes

Life would be considerably less rich and less interesting without caterpillars
seen in Prospect Perk Cafe


I disagree

Today's NYTimes contains a review of Coronado: Stories - By Dennis Lehane that isn't exactly a rave (ok, it's more of a pan). I read this over the summer - one of the many RA books I got a ALA.

You know what? It's not that bad. First caveat: I've never read a Lehane book before. So I went into it with eyes wide open, without expecting something along the lines of Mystic River. Second caveat: I'm not a professional critic. So I'm not able to sound all high-falutin' about Literature. It's just that I know what I like, and what I don't. And, as I said earlier, critics shouldn't pontificate, they should act like the wide-eyed hoi polloi do and experience the work "in the space between discovery and connoisseurship".

Anyway, back to the work at hand. I didn't get through the play, but the stories weren't difficult and demanding. They were rough, in some ways (not just language, but situation). And even though that's not my preferred style, I could see the appeal. I liked the stories. They weren't wonderful literature, and there were few images that stayed with me after I closed the book, but while I was reading them I felt there: in that place, at that time, observing the people doing and saying and feeling.

Sometimes, that's the best read there is.


If it CAN go wrong...

That's what this week has been like: if it could go wrong, it has. Things started out on a "done too much over the weekend and I'm tired" note, and have ended up on a "if the roof doesn't cave in on Saturday that'll be the high point" note. Personal life... professional life... all totally in the crapper this week.

Clearly, blogging isn't my top priority - salvaging my sanity is.

And speaking of sanity, am I the only person in my generation to know these lyrics?
Are you from Function, from Function Junction
Where all those function suction cups are made?
If you're from Function, from Function Junction
Well, I'm from Function too.

Yes I'm from Function, from Function Junction
Where all those function suction cups are made.
And you're from Function, from Function Junction
Hello Mother, I knew it was you!"
Because if so, my mother has a lot to answer for, along with Uppy Duppy (a variant on Ubby Dubby)


Exactly what I want from a critic

My Stupid Dog writes (about Terry Teachout):
"But the best critics are concerned with something beyond mere criticism; they wish to do something other than separate sheep from goats. Much of Teachout's writing is geared toward initiation (which might well be his overall theme): Terry places himself in the space between discovery and connoisseurship, so that he may shuttle his readers from one point to the other (and sometimes back again). It says something, too, that Terry does this as a conservative critic -- and perhaps only an old-school conservative temperament, the kind which revels in the absence of ideology, could really accomplish it. His main objective, it seems, is to pique readers' interest in things they don't already know, to transform curiosity into delight and delight into knowledge."
That's perfect. I don't want someone to tell me what to think about a piece, I want to be introduced to it, given something to think about, and left alone to make up my own mind.

Terry's very good at that. Pity other critics aren't the same.


My Biases

Doug asks that bloggers be up front about our biases:
I'’ve just decided I won't read anybody who doesn'’t tell me where s/he is coming from. Why should I pay any attention to a person who does not have experience or may have some sort of hidden agenda that colors her/his writings? (If the agenda is stated, no problem. See My Biases and John Pederson's biases. Will Richardson has his "“Disclaimer"”.) Damn fine and shining examples of good behavior, we are.
For the record, then, here are my biases. Make of them what you will.

About education:
  1. We owe it to our country and our future to provide every child with the best possible education.
  2. No Child Left Behind is not, in and of itself, evil. The implementation and reliance on testing is horribly misguided and doing nothing to further the education of our students.
  3. Libraries are not optional in a school environment and all students should be information fluent before they leave school.
  4. The fact that students graduate high school without being properly prepared for the world after (be it college or work) is criminal.
  5. Constructivist education should not replace teaching the basics. Without building blocks, there is no further learning. Allowing students to "follow their bliss" should only occur after 9th grade.
  6. A college education - or beyond - is not as important as we think it is. There is honor in doing work that does not require codified higher education.
  7. If you have a PhD in English or Musicology, you are not a doctor.

About technology:
  1. Buying a cool tool is not implementation, it's acquisition.
  2. Technology only works if you know why you have it and how you plan to use it. Sometimes, the older form works better - not every bell and whistle is needed.
  3. People need to be comfortable with a new "solution" for it to work. Forcing change leads to bad change and angry constituents.
  4. There is value to being unplugged and quiet.

About politics, religion and culture:
  1. Privacy is disappearing - this is not a good thing.
  2. Holding to your own religious beliefs is not a bad thing; forcing others to believe the same is. Until death, no one can positively know which is the True Faith. For all we know, we're all wrong.
  3. #2 does not mean that we should not all do our best to be kind, ethical and honorable in our dealings with the world.
  4. Evil does exist. Hitler and Stalin may have been the most recent examples of evil leadership; comparing current politicians to either dilutes the meaning of the word and anesthetizes us to the true thing.
  5. We should all boycott and protest any politician that engages in negative campaigning.
  6. I am not convinced that voting for someone simply because they're not the other party is enough: I want to know what my representative's biases are and where they stand on the issues. Democrats, take note.
  7. Not everyone needs to be famous for 15 minutes.
  8. Our culture celebrate "heroes" mainly those that are merely inspirations. This includes Lance Armstrong, Hillary Clinton, Princess Diana and Oprah.
  9. Celebrating youth is not a good thing. Grow old gracefully. I intend to.

That's enough for now. I expect these will change over the days... months... years. And I'll let you know when they do.


Say it isn't so!

Terry has a post entitled Serendipity, R.I.P.. Now, I haven't read his column in tomorrow's WSJ (shame about that, really, because if I could read tomorrow's papers today, I could make a lot of money at the track and in Vegas and retire in style!) but I'm hoping he agrees with me. In my own inimatable style, I shot off a response, which I'll share here

And yes, I'm yelling about it!

I can't tell you how many times students looking for a book to read come in with one goal in mind (say, the most recent Harry Potter or Misty of Chincoteague) and as they're looking at the shelf, notice something completely different that looks interesting. They take it off the shelf... they read the back cover... they ask if I've read it (of course! I've read all 30,000+ books in the library - it's my job!)... then, 9 times out of 10, they take it AND the book they'd originally been looking for.

The same happens during research. Because of the Dewey Decimal System, most books on a topic are grouped together. So when you've found a book "perfect" for, say, your paper on the Indochinese role in the Treaty of Versailles, you may just see - right nearby - another book that also has good, useful information, perhaps one better than the book you'd thought was "perfect".

If our collection were hidden, requiring students to find the item on-line and then present us with a slip so that we could retrieve the item from the stacks, that would never happen. Yes, I know that's how the British Museum and the Library of Congress (and, I hear, Princeton) work. But I think that the casual reader and the emerging scholar simply would vanish if every library were like that.

End of rant.