Thursday, April 22, 2010

LAB 1: The Reader Advisor is IN

Ben Franz

Putting theory to practice

Since I come from a large family, and the greater majority of them are avid readers, I thought it would be useful to provide reader advisory to five family members. In the interest of non-identification, I shall not reveal which five members of my family they are. Rather, as with all other examples of this sort of narrative, I shall use an initial from one of their names to label them and grant them the required privacy.

The entire clan was gathering for the 8 day festival of Passover, so in preparation of that I provided Reader Advisory to the following initials: R, M, J, L, and S. Before I get into the particulars, let us handle the generalities. I started off each interview with the following 3 questions:

1) What do you like to read?
2) Would you like to read that or something different?
3) What do you not want to read at all?

As with any reader advisory situation, I clearly delineated what each person felt was not of interest to them. For the selections, the tools I used primarily were Fiction Connection and Reader Advisor Online. I also sifted through the IMCPL online catalog to make sure many books were available here, as some of these people do not actually have their own library cards yet, and thus I would have to acquire their books for them. I also decided that 3 books was a good solid number for the 8 day holiday in which they would ingest their particular selections. Without further ado, let’s assess each one’s experience.


R is middle aged, female and generally prone to fits of cackling. She absolutely did not wish to read any romance, although she greatly enjoys watching the romantic dramas each week on Masterpiece Theater. She wanted light and funny materials, preferably by American writers. She especially prefers writers with a Jewish bent. She also enjoys more lyrical fare, particularly about animals. For her, we found the following texts:

Uncle Boris in the Yukon and other Shaggy Dog Stories by Daniel Pinkwater
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

R tackled the first two books, and did not get around to reading the 3rd, citing the need to read many other books she had selected for other purposes already. R thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Pinkwater’s semi-fictional auto-biography of his life through the various dogs he and his family have owned. She thought It was simply ‘charming and hilarious’ great fits of cackling abounded as she wend her way through that book.

The Underneath she found quite haunting and lyrical. R rather enjoys YA literature, so long as it’s not TOO challenging to her principles and morals. With The Underneath, sure you saw acts of abuse against a hound, and a terrible killing happen to a mother cat. It’s really a grim series of violent acts. The conclusion she felt was quite optimistic, and thus made up for the horrible stuff that happened over the course of this story involving a pregnant cat, an old broken down hound dog, her kittens, the terrifying man who owns the hound dog, a Lamia and a thousand year old alligator. R gave it rave reviews, even though it was a hard story to read.


M is a young man, somewhat scattered brained and disheveled of appearance. He has a deep and abiding love of Fantasy-Romance, especially the kind people have labeled ‘trashy’, particularly the word of Mercedes Lackey. He wanted to read some science fiction in a similar vein. I tried hard, but I could not find anything that seemed quite that melodramatic in the vein of science fiction. What I did find, were 3 good books written by women. And they were:

Grass by Sherri S. Tepper
Crystal Singer by Anne McCafferey
The Telling by Ursula K. Leguin

M experiences a ‘fear of success’ sometimes. If he feels he’s doing too well at something, he shuts down and won’t do it anymore. He burned through the first 200 pages of Tepper’s novel, and threw it down and wouldn’t pick it up again. When asked why, he simply responded ‘It was too much’. Working theoretically here, I presumed that he had experienced too much joy reading the first book, and thus was not interested in finishing it; which means, it was an unmitigated failure on my part. The other two books he read, but he would not tell me much outside of the fact that they were ‘okay’. So I was 2 for 3 with M, and was awaiting to see what would go with the others.


J is an analytical young man with a clean shaven head. He has a real penchant for military science fiction and fantasy. However, for this assignment he wanted something ‘light and funny’. Working off of authors I knew he enjoyed, I cobbled together the following 3 books:

The Rumpole Omnibus by John Mortimer
Myth Conceptions by Robert Asprin
The Color of her Panties by Piers Anthony

J solidly worked his way through all 3 books, and thoroughly enjoyed them. There was much guffaws and rejoicing as he tackled for the first time the adventures of Horace Rumpole, who is a barrister specializing in criminal law. The books are written in a humorous manner recounting Rumpole’s thoughts on his life and the legal profession. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, so when the book came up as a read-a-like for Terry Pratchett, it felt a sure recommendation. Myth Conceptions, is a book in the greater Myth Series. This is a very funny fantasy series which explores the mis- (or myth) adventures of a young and novice magician named Skeeve and his mentor Aahz, a large green scaly reptile from the dimension of Perv (It’s pervect, not pervert!). I knew that J had attempted some Xanth books before, so I thought it would be good to try him out on the sequential volume that he had reached. It was very reassuring to see that I had finally nailed someone’s reading interests for once.


L is a very tall girl, and somewhat resembles a ‘teutonic shield maiden’ with the blonde hair, large shoulders, generous proportions, etc. She has a penchant for fantasy and comic books. She absolutely did not wish to read romance either, but if a little romance crept into her books, she wouldn’t stop reading it. She wanted a mix of silly, funny books and space opera science fiction. For L, I recommended the following books:

Startide Rising by David Brin
The 13 ½ lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers
Rendevous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

L did not take to Startide Rising very well. The epic struggle of a ship run by genetically engineered dolphins, did not suit her well. She found Captain Bluebear to be very ‘silly and fun’. Finally she has yet to read the work of Mr. Clarke, so I shall give it a 1/3.

Finally, we come to


S is a high-schooler. An introvert, and painfully shy, she retreats behind novels very effectively. To find her reading would not prove a difficulty. For Passover, she had an assignment to read French and English classics. She wanted action oriented ones. So, having been given my marching orders I found her the following 3:

The Lighthouse at the End of the World by Jules Verne
The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton
The Mysterious Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

She found that though the first book had action, Verne’s writing proved ‘terminally boring’ to S. She absolutely adored the skewed predictive future of an England in Civil War created by G. K. Chesterton, and Dr. Moreau gave her ‘collywobbles, but the good kind’. She too was a two out of three.

Ultimately, I think I did a fair job finding books for each of my readers. It helped that I actually knew most of them well enough to figure things out with the help of reader advisory tools. It also helped that most of them, except M, are fairly easy to please. I find this sort of exercise incredibly thrilling, especially when I successfully find something a reader enjoys.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Annotation 6: Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas
Selected Poems : 1934-1952
New Directions Publishing

There is a famous quote from a Blaxploitation film. Something to the effect of "Some cats just aint right". Dylan Thomas is definitely one of 'those cats'.

A little background, for the uninitiated. Dylan Thomas is a Roman Catholic Irish poet from the mid 20th century. He therefore fits rather squarely into the height of the Modern Poetry age, and school. Like Robert Frost, Thomas did not see a point to free verse. While his poetry does not possess a hard rhyme scheme (example: the first line ends with bee, the second with tree), he does impose a strict rhythm and meter to his poems. He also is fixated on three major topics: 1) Love of people, 2) Love of God, 3) Love of Life. The 'aint right' part comes in his expression of these particular loves. Worry not, I will provide quotes to prove my contentions.

Love of People

Dylan Thomas has a strange way of showing his affection for people, and yes, I do mean ALL people male and female. As he writes in the poem If I Were Tickled By The Rub of Love (p. 12):

'Shall it be male or female? say the fingers
that chalk the walls with green girls and their men.
I would not fear the muscling in of love
if I were tickled by the urchin fingers
Rehearsing heat upon the raw edged nerves.'

The 'I would not fear' line is indicative of a lot of Thomas' poetry. This 'do not fear' motif is a regular thing with the Irishman. It's as if he's done fearing stuff, and he's going to neurotically demand that every body should follow his example. A noble impulse until you get to the "urchin fingers" reference. Urchin can refer to a shellfish, but oftentimes it indicates young children. My mind does not wish to explore the thought that is currently taking residence in one's imagination. However, Thomas has this tendency to write such contentious words and metaphors. I think on a certain level he wants to start a fight, or violate someone. As shall be seen with-


Whoo boy. This is the big one. Thomas was a devout Roman Catholic, true. But he was also this dude ready to spar with anyone and resist the urge to fear or submit himself. There are many confrontational and potentially odious pieces of verse I could quote here, but I decided to go with the least problematic, the debate with God titled Do You Not Father Me? (p. 51):

'Do you not father me on the destroying sand?
You are your sister's sire, said seaweedy,
The salt-sucked dam and darlings of the land
Who play the proper gentleman and lady.
Shall I still be love's house on the widdershin earth,
Woe to the windy masons at my shelter?
Love's house, they answer, and the tower death
Lie all unknowing of the grave sin-eater.'

To be fair, I'm not entirely certain all the imagery he uses here, but it seems to me that he has a tendency to view his lord in a strange light. This seems to parallel conversations prophets have with the creator in the old testament. Where people rail at God until they get the matter explained or handled (more often than not, explained and not in a satisfactory manner). Here however, this seems to be a debate with God about whether or not the lord will serve as love's house, despite an incident of incest (you are your sister's sire). It makes you wonder two things: a) what biblical story he's referencing, and b) why would one want to discuss such things with God? Did Dylan Thomas know from incest? Did he fear the unknowing brought about by this grave sin-eater? I'm afraid the religious part leaves way more questions than answers.

This brings us to:


In many poems, Dylan Thomas is aware that sleep is 1/60th of death. To sleep = die. He's painfully aware of that, and brings it up time and again. You become aware that Dylan does not wish to die. That he might very well attempt to lie in wait for the Grim Reaper and beat the entity senseless. Were Gaiman's Endless analogy accurate, he would probably not care to meet death even if she is a cute goth chick with an Ankh around her neck. To prove this inverse display of love for life I quote my favorite of his poems, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (p. 122):

'Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Bind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.'

While he seems to be fighting against sleep, this is in point of fact a declaration of war against Death. Dylan does not want anyone to die. He wants them to fight until they collapse of the effort and live on forever. On this point I tend to disagree with Mr. Thomas. While life is great, and I would not mind getting a full measure of life out of it. There's something to be said for death. Death is an endpoint, yes, but it's not the end. While we are not given to know what happens in the next round of existence, I think it's only part of the greater adventure that is your life to find out. Sure, one loves life, but if my dad's death of an industrial mishap taught me anything back in 2002, it's that life is not meant to last forever. At least not life as we know it, in this fleshy body that we wear for however many years.

Ultimately, I thought he's a pretty good poet. But as indicated, there are some interesting issues going on in that man's head. Poetry is the expression of your emotions, your thoughts, your beliefs. By creating a world of strong emotional reactions, you get the real sense that something was not entirely 'on' about Dylan Thomas. To sum up, 'that cat aint right'.

Still, if someone wanted to read modern poetry, I would recommend him.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Open Topic #3 How I would save IMCPL from budgetary disaster

As has been learned in the Indianapolis Star, and was expressed by the MysticMynstrel, the library system in town has a severe budget shortfall. (Something to the tune of 7% of total budget). This is a direct result of the property tax caps which were brought about in 2007, because in 2006 people did not care for the amount of property tax they were paying. Candidly, it's primarily Marion County that seems to be paying the burden of property tax for much of the rest of the state, but the white beards capped it temporarily, and now the library does not have enough funds.

This is a terrible situation. This is when one should really instruct the citizens of Indiana why property taxes are important. But all is not lost, there is as the Star indicates a fairly useless portion of government that is currently hoarding a lot of tax dollars (apparently 48 million in Marion county alone), that if gotten rid would release those funds to our publicly owned stuff like libraries, schools, police and fire department. What is this terrible miser, whose very existence causes all this good money to go unspent on behalf of taxpayers? In a word, townships.

What, you ask, is a township. I know, living on the near north side, that I live in Washington Township. But what does a township do? Apparently, Townships back in the 17th century were the way to demarcate areas where people actually live in a town or city. Taxes are funneled into the township to be distributed to things people need. Except apparently, that is no longer the way a township around here functions. It appears that the townships have now become store houses for tax money. That never gets used on anything. In a country which strictly runs public works on tax dollars, that is not simply intolerable, that is flat out unacceptable. Schools, Libraries, soon Police and Fire departments will be screaming for funds, and the township is hoarding money that should be going to these four utilities.

Yes, I view the public library as a utility. It serves the public good, and tax money is supposed to cover it. Therefore a utility.

In other words, despite the property tax caps, if there was no township system, the library would very likely have to take a much smaller and less painful hair cut than the current 7% shaving. I so rarely agree with the local paper, but I think the op-ed writer is correct at this point. The township system needs to go away. That hoarded money needs to be distributed, and libraries need to stay open.

It's so uncool that not only are they apparently closing 6 branches of IMCPL, but they are all branches that service poor communities. This is intolerable. Andrea exhorts us to be change agents, to rise to the occasion. Well here's a good thing to change, kill the townships and reclaim the tax money. I say we do it now.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Annotation 5: Scott Pilgrim and his epic pilgrimity

Scott Pilgrim:
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, Vol 1
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
2004 Oni Press
Isbn: 978-1932664089

For this week, we were graciously permitted the option of reading a Young Adult novel, since our soon to be stepping down dean, Dr. Irwin is on point to guest lecture. So, being a fan of graphic novels, comic books and various cartoon desiderata, I thought it would be a good time to 'feed the beast' and pick up a volume that I've been thinking about reading for a few years now. Boy Howdy, that was the right move!

Scott Pilgrim could easily have been talking about me and my college aged 'dork rock and roll friends' - presuming we had access to wormholes, wicked martial arts and a penchant for vegetarian/vegan food (only the last thing was true at the time). By the term 'dork rock and roll' I of course mean the hipster alt-rock thing that has been growing and steadily developing for ages now across the land. It has even infected a small, un-named town in Canada somewhere in the proximity of Toronto where Scott Pilgrim and his buds live. When we meet Scott in this book, he's a 23 year old slacker dating a high school girl - Knives Chau. It's a very chaste relationship, as they haven't even held hands yet, but Scott likes it that way. He also is the bass guitarist in this band created by his friends Stephen Stills and Young Neil called Sex Bob-omb (try saying that five times fast.) Life is pretty good, until he starts seeing this roller skating chick racing through his mind. She shows up often enough, he starts to wonder if he's going crazy, until that is he meets her in person.

Ramona V. Flowers is a fascinating girl, new to town, she's a roller skate delivery girl for She's constantly changing her hair color, and she has a thing for musicians and general slacker dudes. Once Scott determines she's the girl who's literally been in his mind, he hooks up with and instantly dumps Knives for this fantastically strange red haired (not an organic shade I might add) girl. After spending some quality time together, Ramona informs Scott that he may very well have to earn the right to date her, by defeating her seven evil ex-boyfriends. At first, he thinks she means fight, but no it's really defeat, as in destroy. Her former boyfriends have formed a "League of evil ex-boyfriends" and their determined to prevent anyone else from dating Ramona.

At this point, this cute, strange fascinating book goes into the 'wicked martial arts' referenced earlier. It's quite intentional that this black and white book is illustrated much the way some forms of cute manga is. In that way, the action scenes, often involving some superbly wicked martial arts does not entirely derail the artistic portion of the story's narrative.

To say I adore this book is an understatement. To say that I rushed out to the book store and grabbed the other four volumes currently in print is assured. This is one of the most stirring, magical and fantastic series of stories ever compiled. It's so good, that even before the final volume has been released, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) is currently working like a busy beaver adapting the "epic of epic epicness" into a film. They are currently in post production, and prepared to release it in August, a month after the final vol (no. 6!) is released.

Here's the trailer, I dare you to tell me that is not the awesome:

I rather enjoyed this book, and its appeals are very clearly: 1) it's quirky, young characters, 2) the cute manga style of illustration, 3) and the excellent martial art visual sequence which comprise a solid chunk of each volume. There are more fascinating characters in this series than one could shake a stick at. I really would rather not discuss any in depth, but a few off the top of my head include: 1) Wallace Wells, who's Scott's gay roommate. Scott and him share a bed (probably due to the expense of beds when you're slackers) for the first few volumes. 2) Envy Adams: a former girlfriend of Scott Pilgrim, she's the leader of the band The Clash at Demonhead, which features on bass Todd Ingram, one of Ramona's evil ex-boyfriends. She is a very ego-driven girl and she has no problem savaging everyone, which would explain why she and Ramona have a slug fest at one point...

And the list goes on. I cannot recommend this series highly enough, go and check it out. It's probably the coolest things those darn kids are reading.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chinese Clay: Playtime for Adults

For my programming mini-assignment, I looked at my libraries calendar and saw that today there was going to be a course on Chinese Ceramics. Needless to say, the artistic impulse was super curious. So I arrived at the library branch a few minutes early, and was the second person to fill out the registration form. They require every participant in one of these hands-on programs to fill out a registration form.

These forms were originally crafted to cull information out of children (the stand out question in that regard was: Who do you live with? A) My Mom and Dad, B) My Mom, C) My Dad, D) Other Guardian). The instructor suggested that we scrawl in there whatever we want. Being that I live with my mother, that's the one I checked off.

There were, including the instructor, seven adults at this program. It was evenly balanced between men and women as far as the participants (3 men, 3 women) were concerned. Four of the participants were couples, and the majority of participants (4) including the instructor, were all older adults.

The Instructor was a nice blonde lady with bifocals, who was skilled in various Asian art forms. She also is going to teach classes in paper folding, wood cuts, etc. For today's class, she wished to have us create Terra Cotta warriors. Much like the ones found recently in China.

Apparently, as she informed us, Chinese archaeologists dug up a 7,000 strong clay sculpture army that had been commissioned by Chin Shek Huang, the man who formed the Empire of China, and mostly fashioned the country as it remains to this day. To guard his possessions when he died, he instructed that these warriors be placed underground. Well, the Terra Cotta warriors have been excavated, and they are magnificent works of art even 2,200 years later. All that has worn away in that time was the paint!

So, to fashion these warriors, we were each given a wire bendy piece and a lump of terra cotta clay. If you've ever seen terra cotta, you will note that it's extremely red, as the instructor informed us today, this is due to the iron in the clay. The type of terra cotta we "worked" with today was called 'air dry', in that it would dry by itself if left alone. After bending out skeletons for our warriors, and stapling them to blocks of wood, we started adding small lumps of clay to the frames. It was akin to putting muscles and flesh on a skeleton, and felt like an awe-inspiring act of creation.

At the end of the hour, every one had fashioned interesting sculptures. Mine is at the top of this article, and as you can tell it looks fairly awesome (at least I hope it does). The subtitle comes from a brief conversation at the start of the hour I had with a nice older lady who asked, "Have you come to play with clay as well?"

There is something just so awesome about public library programming when it's done well. I hope to have more experiences like this one. And yes, I love playing with clay!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Secret Shopper Assignment: Where nobody knows your name

For this assignment, I had the pleasure of visiting a library four states away on the Eastern Sea board. Because I cannot according to the rules of this assignment divulge the actual location that I visited, I will simply say it was the most amazingly library looking edifice I had seen short of the Library of Congress.

Course, that wasn't the main reason I chose to travel today. One of my college buds had a do today for his firstborn boy, and I was expected to be there. Being in the midatlantic, I reasoned this would be the perfect chance to visit a library where I was virtually assured that no one would know me.

It was an experience just walking up the many stairs, and petting the large marble guardians resting outside this magnificent building. Inside, I discovered that their idea of the first floor, looked more like the third floor to me. Eventually, after asking a few desk dwellers, I discovered the regal, old oak reference desk. It was labeled INFORMATION, but you knew the two librarians helming it were distinctly reference types.

I walked up to the first one, an older gentleman and he asked with a smile, 'Can I help you?'
I of course asked if he could recommend a good book to read. He countered with 'What's your poison?' To my mind, there's nothing quite as awesome as a librarian capable of witty repartee. So I suggested my standard flavors: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery. He immediately mentioned that if I wanted genre lit, I would be better served at 'the library across the street', but that they had many fine general fiction titles.

Unperturbed, I suggested let's look at the fiction stacks. He asked what time period? I suggested Victorian. He did like what Chuck does on that TV show of the same name, and FLASHED for a second, and suggested Wilkie Collins. My inner mind is thinking, 'Where have I heard that name before?' But being game, I asked if he had a particular book of Messr. Collins in mind? Boy howdy, did he ever.

He immediately without hesitation, reservation or persperation, mentioned that Wilkie Collins had written a great deal of short fiction. He pulled up off the computer catalog a selection titled 'The Best Stories of Wilkie Collins'. I presented the tag to the circulation desk, and they told me to get a library card. After I received my new card, the realization dawned that I now have library cards in 4 different states, how wild is that? Of course, I kept that to myself, but inside I was frabjous and screaming "Calloo Callay!!" and chortling in my joy. (Yes I saw Alice in Wonderland last weekend, and it's warping the brain again.)

After waiting some small time (approximately half an hour), I set to work on the first story in the collection, called The Dead-Alive and instantly several things struck me. I recalled instantly that Erin had read The Lady in White, and that she mentioned it was very dense and hard reading. Well folks, his stories read just the same way.

In this story, we have a barrister who's been told to take some time off from work and rest his brain, or he'll short-circuit his inner workings and die from mental exhaustion. He takes this as a good opportunity to visit a relative in America. This is when he learns of the bad blood on his relative's farm. I recall that the main character's surname was Lefrank, and that the antagonists were 3: Silas and James, as well as a John something or other. I recall a beatiful young woman who I suspect was named Cordelia, but unsure.

The plot is quite hoary, and indicates that in his short fiction, Wilkie Collins was trying to be a little bit poe and a little bit Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was writing hoary strange mysteries with spooky overtones, that turned out to be perfectly logical once the protagonist (LeFrank), pieces it all together. It was a decent read, but if your short stories are as dense as your novels, I'm uncertain I would wish to repeat the experience of reading the book. But I'm certainly glad I had it.

This Library was much like the Library of Congress, in that you could not check out books. They could only be read in the confines of the reading rooms. Ultimately, I enjoyed my two hours at this library, although I did learn that Wilkie Collins is only good if you have plenty of time to spare, and your not tired when you start reading, else you'll be caught snoring in the pages on the book.

Such is the life.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Open Discussion: Fake Memoirs

I have known of these fake memoirs for some time, but had never really looked into them. I find it fascinating that SLISGUY revealed two important yet differing results: 1)James Frey has written a new fake memoir, and 2) The Last Train to Hiroshima is in the process of being recalled. I recall the situation with Mr. Frey very well, after all, when Queen Oprah lectures you on her TV show, it becomes part of all media news coverage.
Yet, there's no such thing as bad publicity. Because Oprah chewed out James Frey on national television, he finds himself with the energy and clout to attempt this stunt again! The mind reels at the fact that repercussions for deceit are not enacted in any way. At least not if your James Frey.
This detail concerning Mr. Frey deeply concerns me as a future librarian. It's fairly clear that if there's a request for a book, one must acquire it. It's also clear that many books probably are not as sincere and honest as you would like them to be. That the public at large is prepared to consume these falsehoods and accept them for a time is sad. It calls to mind the old Jack Warner quote:'No one ever lost money discounting the intelligence of the American Public.' Just like so many people line up at the movie theaters to watch a wretched turd like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, they are prepared to shell out their hard earned cash for a fake memoir.
It calls to mind a few moments on television where this subject was explored. In 'Head of the Class', back in the 80's (that long-lost decade), they once ran a literary magazine for the high school. One of the contributions that the girl who was editing liked was a heartbreaking memoir written by the class troublemaker. It sounded deeply sincere and the part she quotes in the episode is positively literate and anguished. This is permitted to continue, until this embarrassed punk confesses that one of the integral details was made up. I believe the line was 'I never had a brother.' This causes the editor to reel in her disappointment and loathe herself. Of course, it's a sitcom so it manages to resolve itself positively by the end of the episode. South Park explored the fake memoir and Oprah using the long suffering, marijuana addicted Towel-e as the fake memoirist. Although the scenario they create for the farcical aspects involves Oprah's private parts (who both have English accents apparently) conspiring to have Oprah's show canceled so she can devote all her time to pleasuring herself - and by proxy them - Towel-e much like James Frey does not have any serious repercussions to worry about. Certainly, Oprah lectures him on the air, but Towel-e escapes the ensuing hostage situation and lives to smoke a joint again.

Isn't it interesting how much art (or in this case television) attempts to imitate art? I don't exactly know what can be done about fakes, outside of reporting them of course. This is just another terrible pit fall waiting to ensnare a collection development person looking for a good memoir to add to the collection. Wow, that was a chilling final thought...

Annotation 4: Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay
Story by Anne Proulx
Screenplay by Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana
ISBN: 978-0743294164

This was a book I found on display at my local branch of IMCPL. I had always been curious about the film, but never enough to actually go watch it. Therefore, I figured, it would be better to actually read the novella they adapted, and since it accompanied the story along with some essays, why not take a stab at the screenplay.
I have not read very much gay fiction, and until this book I never cracked open a Western that I can recall. I've seen a good deal of western films (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Shane, Unforgiven, Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, Wyatt Earp, 3:10 to Yuma, The Searchers, Dead Man, Once Upon a Time in the West only begin to scratch that suface), but had never thought, "I feel like reading a western today." I seriously regret that I had not, because much like those wonderful films, there's something brilliant about landscape fiction. I know plenty about Fantasy (I may even finish writing such a book one day), and the setting is as much a character as the people who inhabit it are. Without Middle Earth, Bilbo Baggins wouldn't have a strange pastoral landscape to inhabit. Narnia would be useless without the land only accessible to pre-pubescent children from our world. If Elric hadn't grown up in Melnibone, he would never have developed the character he possesses in that excellent series by Michael Moorcock.

This is the long way round of saying that Westerns too live or die by their landscape, and for my money the lonely Wyoming Mountain called Brokeback is one of the most heart-breakingly mind-staggering, lonely and isolated spots of beauty mentioned in the Western genre. Imagine if you will a huge snow capped mountain with nothing but trees and campsites dotting it. Most of the campsites are very abandoned, and have not been used for some time. It's tree line of grass, however is an ideal summer location for sheep to graze. To save costs, the rancher employs two young men each summer to ride up by their lonesome selves. One serves as the cook and camp tender. The other is the shepherd and sleeps with the sheep at night, returning to camp only for meals. So is the expected fate of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist the summer of '67, when they undertake this seasonal gig.

While I have not seen the film, the images of Heath Ledger as Ennis and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack, are so ingrained, that's precisely what I saw in my mind's eye when I read this strange Western romance. Although I have to say, it's not much of a romance. There is but one sex scene, and they get it out of the way at the beginning of the story. For those who are curious, Ennis is the pitcher and Jack is the catcher. This detail plays itself out over the course of their lives. Since Ennis is the forceful dominant personality of the couple, Jack spends his days and months and years anguishing to spend more time with Ennis. Ennis, however, won't have it. First, he only refers to their relationship as 'this thing'. You never hear the words 'I love you' uttered in the entire piece. Second, Ennis has seen what happens to the openly gay cow-folk. He recounts a story about these two queer ranchers he knew as a child. One day, his father is taking him into town and they stop by the corpse of the one gay rancher. His face and body have been wrecked by what Ennis surmises is a tire iron. As Ennis wishes to stay alive, he abjures Jack not to make this 'thing' too serious or official.

Ennis and Jack manage lives apart from each other. In fact the script (which carefully and lovingly adapts the story) follows this tale as it unfolds over many years, and occasional meetings of Ennis and Jack at various motels and lodges all over Wyoming. This proves difficult to do often, as Jack lives in Texas. So Ennis must bide his time, and wait the coming of Jack's beaten up, ancient truck. Over the course of this story, Ennis has a few daughters, and Jack manages a son. Ennis divorces and remarries. Jack simply quits after the first wife. He longs to be with Ennis, who won't hear of it. It's Jack who in the screenplay and the story comes closely to admitting love in a back-ass-wards sort of way: 'I wish I could quit ya.' Not that he can, mind you.

As we learn from the onset, this story does not possess the happiest of endings. I shall not ruin it here, but may yet in class if people wish to know it. This is a powerful piece of writing by Anne Proulx (who's named is pronounced 'proo' apparently). Larry McMurty, who earned a pulitzer for Lonesome Dove brings what I can only surmise to be the same level of writing to the screenplay. It's not often one gets to read the original story and the screenplay of a film. I'm very glad I took a chance and did so.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Annotation 3: I DRINK YOUR MILKSHA- err, OIL! by Upton Sinclair

by Upton Sinclair
@1926, renewed 1954
Penguin Books

The movie There Will Be Blood is 'inspired' by this book.

Inspired, wow, that is a whole new level of adaptation that I was simply not aware of. I shouldn't lie that way. I was aware that inspired works happened occasionally in the past - When F.W. Murnau of UFA was not permitted to adapt Dracula by the then living Stoker family, he was 'inspired' to create a loose and loving copy cat named Nosferatu. Looking at that renewed copyright, and realizing there was no way for Paul Thomas Anderson to make this film a proper adaptation until 2029, he decided to take a few elements from OIL! and tell a similar, yet very different tale. More on that later.

The story of OIL!, as I've discovered is fairly along the lines of the social issues that concerned Upton Sinclair. Novels, you see, were supposed to inform us of great social ills and serve as education into how bad the problem is. I'm told some early novels also supplied solutions, but can there really be easy solutions to political and social unease? Sinclair, for one, does not believe that to be so. His stories have a strongly honest and slightly cynical view of the world, because the 20th century wholly belonged to Big Business, and they are not nice people. In this iteration of the Big Business story, we meet James Arnold Ross, his son who's nicknamed Bunny and Bunny's friend, Paul Watkins. James Arnold Ross, often referred to in the text as 'Dad' is an oil man.

Like most western business pioneers, J. Arnold Ross has his own set of ethics which he scrupulously maintains, unless it does not suit his business goals to do so, of course. After Bunny meets Paul in a Mrs. Groarty's kitchen, he takes his father to the site of the Watkins family ranch, ostensibly to quail hunt. Sure enough, there are plenty of quail available, but as Ross and his son discover, there's an untapped wealth of oil as well.

Upon learning that the Watkins belong to a new and rabidly fundamentalist version of Christianity, J. Arnold Ross and son offer a deal to old Mr. Watkins that he can hardly refuse, but frame the monies in such a way that as they get paid out, old Mr. Watkins is incapable of spending every last cent on missionaries and charities, as he was wont to do. This irritates Eli Watkins - Paul's twin brother, and a rising evangelist in the little town of Paradise Falls, CA. However, as his father signs the deal, there is little for Eli to do about it. As the novel progresses, he becomes a larger and more prominent radio broadcast evangelist, who never really gets his comeuppance. You want him to suffer for his hypocrisy, especially in regards to sex, but he never ever does.

Not so with the Ross family. They become titans of industry, only to get their power diminished when they become part of a large corporate oil empire. As the book progresses, we shift away from the local politics of oil work and strikes and shift into the grander scale of Federal subpoenas, and fleeing the country so as not to testify before congress. All the while, the tone of this book is very folksy. That is to say that Bunny who serves as our narrator, is upbeat in his depiction of events, while his father speaks with the Californian equivalent of the countrified accent.

Horrible events, like murder and corruption are given a light touch, and you almost feel an involuntary giggle at the sheer unabashed evil that grows out of this highly capitalist endeavor of drilling for oil. When J. Arnold Ross takes up with a charlatan of a seance mistress, you actually are rooting for the old man because he has found love again. This is a very strange but pointed book, and distinctly illustrates the views of the radical communists, the capitalists, and the greedy locals who all want their slice of the American Dream, once they realize they have oil lands to lease.

Since the book is protected from adaptation until 2029 (at least not without paying an exorbitant licensing fee to the Sinclair family, ironic no?), Paul Thomas Anderson chose to take a few key events, a few key characters and weave a gripping portrait of an oil tycoon from the turn of the century in There Will Be Blood, the movie loosely and lovingly based off this fine and gripping novel. What I find remarkable about that movie, is its even better than the book! By choosing to economize the narrative, and boil it down to simply the story of J. Arnold Ross (now christened Daniel Plainview), and set the entire series of events from his personal perspective, Anderson creates a highly evocative, enthralling family epic. It feels like a film Orson Welles should have made at the height of his powers. In the film, the confrontation that was always simmering under the surface in OIL! between Eli Watkins and Plainview comes clearly into focus. They are both evil men, with evil agendas. Watkins is more sinister because he wants to control everyone, including Mr. Plainview. Whereas Plainview, who is but an oil man, wants to get a cheap deal on some oil land and plunder it for all its worth and run away with the profits once he's sold the stake off to a big corporation. l

In the movie, your still rooting for Plainview, but wow the denouement there is very highly satisfying. Also incredible are some of the lines from the movie. The book is well written, but there aren't so many iconic lines in the narrative. In the movie the following lines sparkle in one's memory, like crystal pieces:

'Good evening, my name is Daniel Plainview, and this is my son and business partner, H.W.. I'm an oil man, and so I shall speak plainly'

'I abandoned my son! I abandoned my child!'

'You see Eli, it's like so. Your oil is a milkshake, and this, is my straw. When I drilled for oil here, my straw also drank your milkshake. You see? There's nothing left, because I drank your milkshake. I drank your milkshake! I drank it all up!'

And so on and so forth.

I recommend reading the book, as it's a textbook example of how business men operate and their pyschology. But my heavens, that movie was a hand's breadth away from winning best picture at the 2007 Oscars. I highly recommend the movie There Will Be Blood as well.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Choose your own Topic: Quality vs Demand

When this discussion came up in class last night, I was instantly reminded of the line Robert Graves bestowed upon Claudius - soon to be 4th Emperor of Rome - when the Senators inquired if this is something he felt he was truly up to accomplishing.

'Long have I been called a half wit, and yet many people I have known, who have possessed all their wits are no longer here. Yet I remain. It makes me think that its not the quantity of wits that matters; rather the quality.'

It's in the context of what the fourth Roman Emperor* said that I would like to consider this discussion, which turned quite rousing in class last night. Certainly, it can be contended that as a service in the public good, a library must purchase those books that the patrons wish to read. Also, Alisa's position concerning classic titles which do not get checked out is certainly valid; it is depressing to see books that never shift off the shelf.

However, the Library is still a service for the public good. To really get down to the nitty gritty of this discussion, I think we all need to consider what the public good is. Let's contemplate the national parks for a moment. I raise this because Ken Burns' brilliant and most recent documentary 'The National Parks: America's Best Idea' is currently airing Wednesdays' at 9 on WFYI. In it, we see the travails of John Muir, Stephen Mather, Teddy Roosevelt, and all the other stake holders who played a part in creating what ultimately would be the national park service.

The parks are public land, they are entrusted to the public every generation to care for and maintain so that successive generations of Americans can enjoy the glorious vistas of nature that have been safeguarded by the government. This promotes a quality refuge, regardless of the demand.

Fortuitously for the Parks, everyone visits them at one point or another. The quality is preserved, so that the demand to see them will always be sated.

This brings up an important question in my mind: What is the demand of the library? Is the library supposed to be a free version of a bookstore given over to providing infotainment? Is it a study hall where people are supposed to be sober and quiet and read the great books of the ages? Does one need to buy the pot boilers or the super expensive books? What is the actual demand on this very public resource?

I am not going to claim that what I write next is an answer. However, as a seasoned debater, I would love to propose the following idea in the context of an argument which everyone should feel free to disagree with however vehemently.

I think in order to come to an answer we must ask ourselves what WE - the librarians - want the library to be. As has been made clear by the depressed state of our nation and economy, people flock to the libraries for any imaginable reason. What we provide them at the library must be the issue discussed.

To be essentially a 'public bookstore' which caters to the demands of the patrons is a highly attractive state of being. You only order inexpensive books, which will fly off shelves and encourage literacy in the community. But at a great cost. While a large percentage of these texts are literature and/or useful, there are those books that do not add anything to the national conversation, and if anything widen divides clearly seen in our current culture.

While there is definitely a demand for reading materials to be met, I would suggest that maybe we could consider where to draw the line. After all, this is a public service much like the parks. You do not see parks permitting politicians to get up on their hind legs and smear people in front of their incredible sights. So too, I would think that a political book that is essentially trashy should probably not be purchased at a library, as it does not serve the public good.

Further, there's the idea of promotion. The book sits dull on the shelf, what is the harm in breathing life into it? See if there's a film that ties into the text and make a film/book reading series with a discussion component free and available to the public. The Children's film series is always quite popular, so I imagine such promotion would go over very well.

Ultimately, while there will always be the constraints of Director commands, patron desires, and public opinion I suspect that if we do our own brand of PR and attempt to convince the masses through subtle but direct means which they enjoy like programming, we may yet be able to raise the quality of the demand that the patrons want.

Then again, it may prove to be a longer more difficult struggle than anyone thought.

At the end of the day, something must be done. This, was but a possible suggestion.

* The first series of Emperors, if memory served all had the same super long name which ran: Augustus Germanicus Tiberius Claudius Nero.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Like Water For Chocolate

Like Water for Chocolate
By Laura Esquivel
1992 Doubleday (English Translation
Genre: Romance
Read-Alike Authors: Isabel Allende, Alice Hoffman, Joanne Harris

Spicy, Flavorful and dramatic are the three words which are instantly conjured when I think of this book. Romance is something I have not often contemplated reading. However, I resolved that very nearly every book I read this semester will be new to me, and so I figured it wouldn't hurt if I found a book that may have some magical realism applied to it.

Wowie-Zowie, that was awesome. I have great familiarity with magical realism from the books of Marquez, Borges, etc., but I have never read a contemporary author who manages to apply it so artfully. I think in large part the magical imagery in this books - tears flowing like a river, bodies literally coming a flame with passion - are greatly aided by the fact that Ms. Esquivel here is a scriptwriter. To write the screenplay, one must be able to put everything into visually descriptive terms, so as to reduce the need for dialogue, explanation or narration of any sort. Here she applies her skills to great effect in the service of the story of 'her great aunt Tita'.

Whether or not this actually occurred is obviously beside the point, as we are discussing a great and towering romance. But it's not simply a romance. This book is also a cook book, filled with 12 recipes from the writer's familial cookbook. These are all described as folk recipes, and generally untested. But to read each recipe, you can tell a lot of care was taken into researching how the older generations of Mexican Ranchers cooked.

Tita is the second daughter of Mama Elena, who has 3 daughters one out of wedlock. Its the tradition of their family that one daughter - usually the illegitimate one should not be married, rather she should take care of the family all her life. This is Tita's role to play, and she does not really cherish the opportunity. She falls for a young man named Pedro, and desperately wants to marry him. Unfortunately, her plans are foiled and Pedro marries her sister Rosaura. In a private moment, Pedro informs Tita that he's marrying Rosaura to be close to her.

This leads to a cycle of tears, revenge and secret meetings between Pedro and Tita, who has also fallen for a handsome American doctor named John Brown. Though there were moments, where I felt the story was becoming a little sordid for my personal taste, it was quite engrossing throughout.

The book was also adapted to film for Miramax back in 1994. I have not yet viewed the film, but I understand it to be as fun and dramatic as this romance/cook book with dashes of magical realism hidden throughout.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kirkus Style Review: A Canticle for Liebowitz

A Canticle for Liebowitz

Author: Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Review Date: JANUARY 28, 2010
Pages: 352
Price (hardback): $14.95
Publication Date: 1960
ISBN: 0060892994
ISBN (hardback): 978-0060892999
Classification: NOVEL

Miller's (Saint Liebowitz and The Horse Woman, 1996) first novel tells the story of humanity after "The Flame Deluge"; otherwise known as nuclear war.

In 3 connected stories, we learn of the fate of the human race. "FIAT HOMO" details an incident where Brother Francis Girard of Utah on a lenten vigil discovers the "tomb of the blessed Liebowitz". To backtrack, Isaac Liebowitz decided after the bombs fell and civilization collapsed to endeavor to save as much knowledge as possible. After the "Flame Deluge" wiped civilization off the face of the Earth, the survivors chose to be "simpleton's" and burn all books, cd's, etc. They found, so no one could destroy the world again. The Simpletons were given to religious fervor, so Isaac Liebowitz founded an order of monks to do his work, and save all possible knowledge from the book burning simpletons. Many generations later, Brother Francis is of the "Albertian Order of The Blessed Liebowitz". In the fallout shelter, he discovers relics which strengthen the order's case to sanctify the name of Liebowitz, and establish the man as a Saint.
In "FIAT LUX", we find the world having returned to the technological level of Thomas Edison. Brother Kornhoer of the Liebowitzian order is busy trying to perfect an electric light source. He is greatly aided by a scientific scholar and cousin to the now 'King of TexArkana", Thon Taddeo.
Thon Taddeo manages to assist the monk ably, and prevents his cousin's forces from figuring out how to use the abbey as a fortress. With "FIAT VOLUNTAS TUA" humanity despite itself has returned to its age of technological wonder. There have even been colonies established on other worlds. As this last part of the book opens "Lucifer falls". Lucifer is the code name for a massive thermonuclear warhead set in orbit around the Earth. Why it falls, is almost immaterial, as it's explosion on the Earth will bring nuclear war once again. The abbot Dom Zerchi, must determine a path to save as many humans as possible before the war breaks.

This is a very important book, and details a very honest potential vision of our future. Unless we manage to curtail the threat of nuclear weapons.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Road Dogs: The Return of Jack Foley

Road Dogs
by Elmore Leonard
2009 William Morrow
Genre: Thriller
Related Authors: Denis Lehane, Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler.

I can honestly say I have not read nearly as much crime/Thriller fiction as I would have liked to. As a film major, I've devoured many hours of Crime cinema, often based off of books by great writers (The Godfather Saga, The Maltese Falcon, Jackie Brown, etc.), but I really did not delve into this book genre with any depth until this very week. Boy howdy, was I missing out!

I am familiar (as I'm sure many people are) with the Elmore Leonard bank robber Jack Foley from the 1998 film Out of Sight, which explores amongst other story threads Foley's brief but serious romantic encounter with an assistant US Marshall, Karen Sisco. Since in that film George Clooney played Foley, he's the voice I heard whenever he spoke. This book would make a great follow up film for that character, not that anyone seems to be developing it at this point.

Here we have Jack Foley landed in prison for 30 years for the combined crimes of kidnapping a US Marshall - Sisco, and escaping prison. The fact that he was being pushed into the escape vehicle by same dangerous digger types who had harmed him, and he only shoved Sisco into the trunk to protect her was of no concern to his honorable Justice 'Maximum Bob' - so named for dishing out the longest possible sentence for any felony. Maximum Bob tried him in Florida, so Foley finds himself admitted to prison the same day Cundo Rey, a Cuban murderer, transfers to the said Florida prison. There they develop a fast friendship when Foley disarms the white supremacists who were about to hurt Cundo badly at supper time. With Cundo's help, Foley gets a good lawyer who has his sentence reduced to 3 months.

Upon achieving freedom, Cundo offers him hospitality at his homes in Venice, CA. Its there that the story takes off. The caper and double crosses come fast and furious. There is great humor in this book, and Elmore Leonard possesses a very crisp and clean writing style. He only uses the word 'said' whenever a character speaks, thus allowing the language to let you know the emotional state of the speaker. He believes in brief books, this apparently is one of his longer 'tomes' at 262 pages.

While its clear by the end that Jack Foley may not be involved in any more capers, it's a very satisfying story that I could not put down. I read the whole thing in four hours. A very wondrous book. I highly recommend it for anyone above the age of 13.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

This is my blog locale for S524 Adult Reader Advisory. I shall hope to fill this blog with assignments and genuflections brought about by the six new genres I'm going to undertake reading. Rest Assured, there will be strange (at least for me) stuff posted here.