Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stop what you're doing and read this book

At holiday gatherings, Friends of the Ballet cocktail parties and roller derbies, I am often asked what it is like to work in a library. "Huh huh, you must read all day" is the typical inane comment I hear. To which I reply, "Why no, I don't. I answer reference questions and suggest reading material to interested patrons." What I really want to say is, "Yep, right in one, psychic. But it beats chewing tobaccy, changing oil and yanking it to the Miss Quaker State calendar all day."

If you want to know what it's like to work in a library, then read Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library. Don Bochert has captured all the most delightful elements of working a public service desk. From reaching into the bookdrop and retrieving a fecal-encrusted dildo to reissuing a library card to a patron who swears the triple 666s will cause him pain to chasing off the drunk wearing a tutu to the patron who tried to mail a letter in the dictionary stand.

Bochert spills the beans about contemporary libraries with generous doses of love, candor and good natured humor. At the end of the checkout period, he still believes in the power of libraries and that patrons truly mean to return their materials on time.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Good Day's Work

What got done:

1. One column written and submitted.

2. Two assigned blog posts written and posted.

3. One play review written and uploaded.

4. One book review written and submitted.

5. Three books, read and annotated.

6. One good run

7. In-laws visited

8. Awards notebook updated with new annotations.

What DID NOT get done:

1. Sweeping

2. Grocery shopping

3. Phone call to parents

4. Plants watered

I'd call it even.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Heart and Reading Rates

I don't have a lot of patience for those crepe-hangers who like to bemoan the fate of the book. Faced with the looming onslaught of technical devices with which to read, they wring their hands and clutch their beloved copies of Great Expectations to their heaving bosoms, vowing never to let ear buds invade their ear drums. They are annoyingly certain that only their imagination is the perfect conduit for an author's words, not some narrator and they don't want any gadgetry getting in the way of their printed pleasure.

Today I'm here to tell those folks to keep their dust jackets on, the printed book isn't going anywhere. My experience this morning while out for a run is proof.

Armed with a bottle of water and my CD player, I slipped the latest disc of the audio book I'm reviewing (and enjoying) into the player, set the volume, adjusted the ear pieces and kicked up my heels on a dusty track.

Halfway through the thrilling and perfectly narrated disc, it started to hiccup like an annoying drunk imparting much needed driving directions. I ignored it. I wasn't missing much of the story. It blipped, skipped, and hicc'd for the next half hour. So much so that my heart rate is unmeasurable at the end of the run, it's skipping and blipping along to the CD.

I cooled down (hardly) by walking and trying to hold the player to keep it from skittering. I was at a good part and I really wanted to hear what happened next. I held the player down by my side, over my head, stuffed it in my pocket. Nothing helped. I gave up and fumed the last quarter mile. "If I had a real book this wouldn't happen. I could hold the book up in front of my face and turn pages. Of course, I'd have to stop at crosswalks. And it might be difficult to follow the words if I'm bouncing while I'm running. But at least I'd be able to read all the damn words!"

This isn't the first time this player has sputtered its way through a workout. But I'd had it with technology by the time I got home. I left the CD player on the porch after I removed the disc and batteries. I got a cup of coffee and a hammer and went onto the porch for the upper body portion of the exercise hour.

You can't imagine how great it is to beat the hell out of a worn out CD player. There are little pieces of plastic and metal artfully scattered on my porch. I'll clean it up later.

Right now, I just had to share my firm belief that the printed book isn't on its way out, so ya'll eye-readers can just settle. And I need to order an iPod and sign up for Audible.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reality TV for writers

I was looking over all the reality television offerings and realized that aside from C-SPAN's BookTV (a televised book report), there are no "real" shows that appeal to the bards and scribblers among us. Every other art form has secured its own small screen showcase, how about one for writers? Here are my pitches for this fall's TV slate.

Writing with the Stars: Ghost writers will partner with barely literate celebrities and construct a chapter from a forthcoming tell-all memoir. In the judging round, writers will read from each chapter. Winning entries will have the most outrageous content couched in the most literate prose. Only the celebrity will get credit for the win.

Top Scribe: Every week an unnamed publisher will provide a setting, two characters, a catch phrase, and a genre. Each writer-contestant will construct a proposal for a bankable bestseller that employs all elements. The winning proposal gets film rights. This week's challenge: In 24 hours, write a Hugo Award-winning book that includes the Korean War, one actuary, one librarian, and the phrase, "This one time, at band camp…?" Use of a thesaurus or Redbull will result in disqualification.

The Amazing Travelogue: Travel around the world to the secret destination provided in the itinerary that arrives at 12:01 in your email. You must use the method of travel specified (sedan chair, log raft, camel, coach-and-four). Once you have arrived at your destination you have $20 less than the going rate to secure accommodations at a clean and safe motel within walking distance of hot spots. You will have $10 less than the average meal with which to dine like a gourmet. You must find five no-cost/low-cost AND romantic activities to do. Frequent flyer points if one of the activities is family-friendly. Write up your experiences in 25 words or less and email back to editor by 5 pm the next day.

Flip this Manuscript: Submit your Great American Novel to 50 publishers. Collect all 50 rejection slips. Paper your bathroom walls with rejection slips. Bonus points for mosaics. Sell house.

Real World Author: Set alarm for 7 am. Punch until 8:30 am. Get up, pour coffee, turn on computer screen. Reread yesterday's efforts. Wonder why you didn't take mom's advice and become a history teacher. Drink more coffee. Reevaluate yesterday's efforts. Smugly realize that you are glad you didn't take mom's advice. Bang out three sparkling sentences that do not need editing. Get stuck. Stare at computer screen for 45 minutes. Clean bathroom. Stare at computer screen. Do laundry. Stare at computer screen. Mow lawn. Stare at computer screen. Kids come home from school. Find inspiration and write frantically until 2 am. Write. Read. Repeat. Get dropped from publisher next season for low Nielsen ratings.

I am so going to Hollywood.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A New Life With Old Demons

Gail Giles is known for taking on serious, almost controversial subjects, in her popular young adult novels. A loathsome student becomes the most popular kid before he is killed by classmates. When a daughter, thought to be dead, returns to her shattered family, her sister is skeptical. A Goth girl takes an inordinate interest in a quiet student with drastic results. The most popular girl in school is buried alive as revenge for the death of another student.

Giles has perfected the art of young adult heart-stopping page-turners. She does it again in her newest title, Right Behind You. Kip has just committed a horrible act. He flung gasoline and a lit match on seven-year-old Bobby Clarke. Bobby has died from his burns and Kip has been sequestered in a hospital. Kip is nine years old.

Flash forward almost five years. Wade has just moved to Indiana. He is trying to fit in at his new high school but his anger gets in the way. When Wade is angry he forgets he has a secret that he is longing to reveal. But to tell it means life is over for Wade and his family. So Wade fights to hide--from his friends, his family and himself. Wade is about to lose the fight.

Readers who have enjoyed this character-oriented story told in realistic dialogue and vivid action should turn next to Chris Crutcher.

This book was discussed on The Walt Bodine Show 's Book Doctors program August 13, 2007. KCUR 89.3

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Bodacious Bodine

I was graciously invited back to KCUR's Walt Bodine Show for the Book Doctors segment today. Listen here or click on Book Doctors and see which books I talked about today. And sorry the webcam wasn't working.

I was the eggiest head in the room for mentioning the new Poet Laureate, Charles Simic, and admitting to reading a collection of his poems, and then I was the most controversial as I promoted a book about a boy who murders another child. That's me, all over your reading spectrum like Fantastik on the kitchen counter.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Is all well?

The two sources I trust the most have finally weighed in on the Harry Potter phenomenon.

On the front page of the Book Review, The New York Times printed a review that revealed no major spoilers (although if you're not aware of the ending by now, it's time to sublet that granite subterranean flat you've been living in). Reviewer Christopher Hitchens takes a few high brow swipes at the series as a whole and the final volume in particular, but I expected nothing less.

The most anticipated analysis came from my Uncle Stevie over at the Bible of Popular Culture, commonly known as Entertainment Weekly. Stephen King has been the most loyal reader and defender of Harry Potter , J.K. Rowling and their combined exploits. He is also one of the most astute commentators on the state of today's popular culture.

I'm still mulling over Hitchens' piece and his perceptive parallels drawn between Orwell, Dickens, Kipling and Conan Doyle and Rowling. Your thoughts?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

How I Spent My Working Vacation

He Reads, She reads

Readers' advisory experts David Wright and Kaite Mediatore Stover went live with their popular Booklist column and discussed the question, "Are there such things as guy reading and girl reading?" The answer was an entertaining, "Yes!" Guys like to read about "blowing things up," Wright said, and Stover added that girls are finally getting into graphic novels.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I'm not doing anything crucial on Monday, August 13 at 10 am. So when Hayley the Radio Comet calls me up and says, "Hey, get down here and share reading wisdom on Book Doctors!" I'm game.

Catch me at aforesaid date and time: The Walt Bodine Show or click here.

If you scroll down and look on the left, you'll see the webcam feature. I promise not to take off my shoes this time.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

World Domination Through Reading

Di Herald's kick-ass readalike on Kick Ass Heroines reminded me of why I wanted to play striker for Manchester United and use a meter maid for goal practice this morning. I wasn't parked more than ten minutes! It wasn't even 8 a.m.! And she saw me coming to move my car!

But the more I think about it, the more I realized I'm not really in the mood to mess up someone's day. I'm in the mood to mess with someone's world. Which probably explains my recent fascination with insomnia-inducing, adrenaline-riddled, conspiracy theorist novels.

Derek Armstrong's The Game had me up all night trying to figure out who was killing all the contestants locked in a remote haunted mansion serving as the latest setting for a trendy reality television show. Enter the world's most gleefully abhorrent detective, equipped with misanthropic ripostes, claustrophobia and a pill-popping habit. Anyone who loathes reality television will wish that Top Chef had their very own Detective Alban Bane wielding a knife in the kitchen.

I turned next to Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff. This futuristic conspiracy-twisted thriller takes off like a rocket. Jane works for "Bad Monkeys" a division of "The Organization" that takes directives from the "Cost Benefits" division. Their mission? Take out those humans who are deemed a drain on society while alive and less so when, well, terminated. Unfortunately, an untimely termination leads to Jane's arrest, and she is now telling her wildly unbelievable, but oh-so-realistic, tale to a prison shrink as she calmly acknowledges that, yes, she killed a man, but no, he probably didn't "need" it, not like the other bad monkeys.

Of course, if you really have time to kill between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., then you need Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis. Think Da Vinci Code on hallucinogens with a strong dose of Advanced Placement American History and you will be traveling the underground railroad of the "secondary" Constitution with Mike McGill and punky academic Trix.

These books won't soothe the insomnia or the agita. But they will make you glad you stayed up for it and you'll be ready to kick more than your caffeine in morning.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


I think we've been outed.

Pierre Bayard has blatantly stated what we librarians only whisper to each other in dark corners of conferences, confess in encrypted emails to our closest pals, grudgingly admit over the fourth or fifth bookardi and cola at Librarian's Anonymous meetings.

We haven't read everything.

In his soon-to-be published treatise, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, Bayard not only condones not reading everything (and logically points out the impossibility of this endeavor), he encourages the practice.

"Being culturally literate means being able to get your bearings quickly in a
book, which does not require reading the book in its entirety--quite the
opposite, in fact. One might even argue that the greater your abilities in this
area, the less it will be necessary to read any book in particular."

In the first section of his book, Bayard is not dismissing reading altogether, merely pointing out that choosing what to read also means choosing what not to read. These are choices readers must make with every book plucked off a shelf. For Readers' Advisors, who are already well aware of all the choices available, this is an agonizing truth. The proficiency of a Readers' Advisor lies in the ability to glean as much as possible from as many books as possible, place them in cultural context, and maintain perspective regarding the relationship of one book to another. In this way "anyone who truly cares about books...masters all of them at once."

Interesting theories to chew on.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

No Reservations for a Blog for Two

Scootch OVER, Frank! I want a turn.

Frank, you amaze me. I cannot fathom how you are able to keep up with all the breaking news in the book biz. And provide pithy commentary. You get my brain buzzing about reading and writing. Now I have something to mull over in staff meetings. I appear to be paying attention to the agenda but secretly I'm pondering what will Hollywood do next to torture that poor Jane Austen?

You go great with morning coffee. I'm more of an afternoon candy break kind of blogger. That's the time for biblio-silliness such as this, Judge a Book by Its Cover blog. Which prompted howls of laughter as my coworkers and I all counted the hands on a romance cover's heroine. Giggles and snorts soon gave way to an insightful discussion of book covers, what they are trying to tell readers, what they tell librarians, and why doesn't Harlan Coben just earflick the person who designs his covers?

And then there are covers that induce the universal statement, "Hmmmmm?" Such as this one, The Psychic Sasquatch, which set off all the readers' advisors in my department on a spirited debate over genre-blending. You might need a cup of coffee and two pieces of Ghiradelli dark for this one.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Lauding the Laureate

whooooffft. Puh-puh-puh. Is this thing on? Can you HEAR{screeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEeee} me?

Oh. Sorry, folks. {brightly} Hi, welcome to the first Sunday evening poetry reading sponsored by Likely Stories, with virtual victuals provided by the good folks at Booklist.

This week, the literary world is all aflutter over Charles Simic, the latest poet to earn a star in the biblio-cosmos otherwise known as the Library of Congress's Poet Laureate of the United States. We've all been hearing about two of his most famous volumes of poetry, Walking the Black Cat, a finalist for the National Book Award, and The World Doesn't End: Prose and Poems, his Pulitzer Prize winning collection. But we haven't heard much about one of his earlier, more experimental, volumes, White.

Just like the Fab Four, Simic has his own curious "album of art." White is full of Simic's sharp, vivid imagery and as an added bonus, readers can see his mind on parade in wildly creative Picasso-esque pencil illustrations for most poems.

Knives, clouds, moonrocks, virgins, Norwegian polar explorers, snow, brides, stars, handkerchiefs, teeth. All manner of white objects are present for your pondering pleasure.

To paraphrase America's bard, "Rock these words as you would an injured bird."

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Guest Blogging

As Mary K. likes to put it, "Have mouth, will speak." In this case, it's "Have space, will blog."

The Likely Stories blog over at Booklist Online is my temporary haven for the next week or two. I've been charged with coming up with witty, insightful and prescient observations on all things biblio for the space while the regular blogger is off in the wilds of Montana, from where, I have no doubt, Graphite will come back with yet another sensational idea for his next book.

As soon as he's plucked his two adorable younguns from the fish pond, whipped his head around frantically wondering where the nearest Dunkin' Donuts is, and convinced himself he has NOT missed his Argyle-patterned bus stop, he'll boot up the nearest computer to see what sort of havoc has been wreaked on his blogeny.

Send your twisted ideas, snarky comments, and pithier-than-thou observations to me. Graphite doesn't need the agita.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Goodbye, cruel world

I'm about to become extinct.

"Scientists Question Whether Rare Reds Are Headed For Extinction" by Robin L. Flanigan Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

"If predictions by the Oxford Hair Foundation come to pass, the number of natural redheads everywhere will continue to dwindle until there are none left by the year 2100.

The reason, according to scientists at the independent institute in England, which studies all sorts of hair problems, is that just 4 percent of the world's population carries the red-hair gene. The gene is recessive and therefore diluted when carriers produce children with people who have the dominant brown-hair gene.

Dr. John Gray's often publicized explanation of his foundation's findings: "The way things are going, red hair will either be extremely rare or extinct by the end of the century."

The gene responsible for red hair - known as the melanocortin 1 receptor, or MC1R - was only discovered in the late 1990s. People have a good chance of being born with red hair if they have a mutation of that gene.

Red hair is found in all ethnic backgrounds but is most commonly associated with people of Celtic descent.