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.