Books and Beyond
I started working in libraries in the late 90s, but made it a career after getting laid off as a financial news editor in 2001. I’m one of the few people you’ll meet whose work was outsourced to England rather than India or China. Not that it matters.
Being jobless is scary and therefore a good Halloween topic. I know unemployment gave me many weird and intense nightmares.
One in particular stands out to me even years later. I walk into the Belmar library for an interview. A man and a woman greet me in the lobby. The woman holds a slim, red book called Auto Mechanics Fundamentals.
I know nothing about auto repair, either in real life or in my dreams. Oh my God, I think. What does reference librarianship have to do with knowing the wiring diagrams of a 1978 Mercury Zephyr?
Grinning, my tormentors lead me into the building. Now, the Belmar library can accommodate around 200,000 books. Fiction is shelved alphabetically by the author’s last name; non-fiction is shelved according to the Dewey Decimal system. (The auto repair topic happens to be around 629.2). The shelves have end-panel signs indicating the number range they contain, so even with 200,000 books the system usually lets you find what you want just by looking at the spine labels on the surrounding items.
But what if there were no end-panel signs—and no surrounding materials?
Here is where the nightmare begins. My mouth gapes when I discover every single book is gone. Hundreds of empty shelves confront me.
Cackling, the woman thrusts Auto Mechanics Fundamentals into my hand. “So you want a library job, fat boy?”
“Well then! Taking into account 200,000 books, with an average dimension of 25x20 centimeters and shelf lengths of 120 centimeters, with 6 shelves per segment and 5 segments per row, adding up to 70 rows in all; and keeping in mind that we don't put any books on the top and bottom shelves; and remembering that auto repair makes up 1.4% of our non-fiction holdings—with ALL THIS in mind, place the book in the exact spot it would be if all of these shelves were full.”
Her mocking laughter booms behind me as I take the book and meander through aisle after barren aisle, my mind reeling with trigonometry formulas while trying to imagine each shelf filled with books of different sizes, shapes and colors. This futility goes on for two hours before the man and woman turn into stalking werewolves. Crouching behind empty shelves, I'm pretty easy to find.
At least it was a quick death.
Reality proved to be much better. I actually got an interview with Belmar—a completely rational one—and was hired two weeks later in February 2002.
The manager did end up being a werewolf, though.
And her hair was perfect.
Even after a few years, most of us probably remember the big dustup that pitted Oprah Winfrey against writer James Frey. Frey had just written a bestselling book called A Million Little Pieces, which was marketed as a memoir. Frey’s book dealt with an addict’s long, slow descent to the bottom, and because it had the requisite amount of tragedy (as well as a healthy dose of redemption), it seemed a perfect choice for Oprah and her book club.
Winfrey had Frey on her show, only to later discover that some of the elements of A Million Little Pieces had been fabricated. This so offended Winfrey’s sensibilities that she initiated a very public shaming of Frey, in which she castigated him for lying to her (and by extension, his audience). To Winfrey, fiction was fiction and memoir was truth, one hundred percent, no exceptions. In Winfrey's view, if a writer invented parts of his memoir, than it was tantamount to lying to your face. The feud ended with Frey’s publisher taking the unprecedented step of offering full refunds to readers who felt deceived by the book , as well as a contrite Frey being summoned to make a second appearance on Winfrey’s show, where he made all of the correct noises about being sorry, not meaning to deceive his readers and so forth.
I won’t bang on about Oprah Winfrey anymore, but that entire affair did pose some interesting questions about the nature of biography. Memory, as we know, is an imperfect thing: just get two people together who share a common memory and you’ll likely get two very different accounts of the same experience. But committing an experience to paper and calling it memoir changes people’s expectations about what is permissible, and this leads us into a discussion about the value of truth in literature.
Regardless of where you stand on that issue, Lauren Slater’s Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir is a book that’s certain to throw you for a loop. Slater recounts having grown up as an epileptic in the care of her over-attentive mother, and the frequent seizures she suffered as she went through various stages of childhood and adolescence. It’s through the lens of epilepsy that she relates to her mother, a woman with aspirations of living a good life that never quite materializes.
As she grows older, Slater discovers another tendency in herself: she lies. At some point in the book, the reader is left to question whether her epilepsy—which is detailed in minute and sometimes disturbing detail— is an actual condition or a psychosomatic crutch that she uses in order to deal with her mother’s expectations. The book, which follows Slater from childhood through young adulthood, suggests that what Oprah Winfrey might call lying is simply an act of literary imagination, and as such, it can often reveal a literary (rather than a factual) truth.
I could tell you I have my doubts about any book that would deceive me, but that would be a lie. The only question worth asking is whether the author offers us a convincing lie. If the answer is yes, then you might just be holding a great book in your hands.
Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater. New York: Random House, 2000.
“What the heck are you doing up here? Did you get demoted or something?”
I get this joke a lot of late when patrons discover me working the Accounts Desk (that’s the "Circulation Desk" if you’re from the old school). I understand why. For the last ten years, they’re used to seeing me at the Information Desk (AKA the "Reference Desk" in antique parlance).
We’re implementing an ambitious new service model to maximize use of everyone’s capabilities. Part of this means Circulation staff learning reference work and Reference staff learning circulation tasks, with the goal of fulfilling our patrons’ basic information needs in as quick and seamless a way as possible.
What an eye-opening experience! Reference transactions tend to be time consuming and messy. We delve through databases and teach people to use technology. The Accounts desk is more precise and often far more hectic. Also, it’s the place where people pay fines. I hate handling money. This stems from a bad and unlikely three-month stint I did as a bank teller about 20 years ago. I lost almost $2,000 on my first day of work—I swear I’m not making that up—and was at one point even accused of stealing it.
So my fingers go shaky around cash registers. Thankfully the average patron’s fine seems to be about $.60. I can handle that.
Patrons probably don’t realize how much they’re touching on a pressure point in library culture when they joke about “demotions.” Like many occupations, librarianship long has been stratified between the “professionals” (those with a Masters degree in library science) and the “para-professionals,” who often get lumped together regardless of their job or education.
There are librarians out there who consider the very idea of doing “Circ work” offensive and demeaning. This attitude ignores economic realities and job contraction. We’re leaving the rigid concept of departmental duties behind—as we should.
Take reader’s advisory as an example. It’s a joy to recommend books to people, but in the past only Reference staff were allowed to do it. How does that make sense? If you seek my recommendation for some good mystery novels, I can use databases and websites to generate a list, but I won’t have first-hand knowledge because I don’t read mysteries. Yet I know a Circulation clerk who devours mysteries like candy. Wouldn’t you be better off getting your mystery recommendations from her? Under the past model, she wouldn’t be allowed to help you.
Now she can.
And everyone is better served.
Librarians everywhere hear many of the same complaints. Two of my favorites involve pencils. The first is: “Why do libraries buy such little pencils? And why do they suck?” (The answer: they’re made in China). The second complaint goes like this: “Why doesn’t your pencil sharpener actually sharpen anything? This feels like I’m trying to skin carrots with a flint knife.”
They have a point—certainly more of a point than you’ll find on our stubby pencils. At Standley Lake, our electric pencil sharpener somehow makes pencils duller than they were before. The hand crank sharpeners of my youth were far more effective, but that was in the Reagan era when pencils were American and eager to be honed to a fine, fighting tip.
If you’re one of those people in search of the perfect pencil point, fret no more! David Rees, formerly a nationally-known political cartoonist, now has a business based on artisanal pencil sharpening. Yes, you read that right. Much like how the skilled blacksmiths of old forged weapons of exquisite design from hammered steel, Rees will sell you a pencil sharpened lovingly by his own hand, and all for the low, low price of $35.
Is this guy serious? Looking at pictures of him at work on his website, you’d assume it’s all an elaborate hoax concocted by The Onion. But somehow Rees has sold almost 2,000 pencils over the last year!
P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” It might be time to revise that number up.
But do I want one of these pencils? Absolutely! In fact, I wish I’d had one back on Feburary 8th, 1990. I bet I wouldn’t have scored a 12 on my ACT if I’d tackled the Scantron with a $35, hand-sharpened pencil. Such a formidable weapon must be good for an additional 10 points just in terms of its psychological value.
But I probably would have applied too much pressure and broke the tip on the first question, ruining all that craft.
David Rees has a book on the subject, incidentally, called How to Sharpen Pencils. We don’t own it, but you can order it through Prospector.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to design a new type of pool cue. I just need $10,000 and a 3D printer to get started. Anyone want to help me out?
Like most people, I loved being read to as a child. What are bedtime stories except the audiobook experience with the people we most love and trust acting as the narrator? At some point, we all seem hardwired to enjoy oral narratives. Maybe it harkens back to mankind’s early communes around a fire with some spellbinding bard.
But somewhere along the way I simply lost the ability to enjoy listening to stories, leaving me a bit envious of people who can absorb audiobooks while they’re driving—or exercising, for that matter. Thanks to digital downloading and Playaways, enjoying audiobooks at the gym is easier than ever. It was pretty hard to pump iron while trying to keep that Sony CD player from skipping, after all.
What’s interesting to me in light of recent technology and publishing developments is the opportunity for almost anyone to lend their voice to a story. For example, Youtube, better known for hosting millions of videos, is also a popular audiobook venue. Some of the titles are uploads from professional recordings such as Recorded Books; but others are just recordings of a person or group of people reading a book they like. These books may or may not be in the public domain—when it comes to Youtube, copyright laws get abused like a red-headed stepchild.
With even amateur recordings getting thousands of Youtube hits, it seems like there’s potential money to be made here if you can read well out loud. Audiobook narration used to be the exclusive domain of people with professional broadcast experience and equipment. But just as Amazon.com has helped spear-head a rise in self-publishing, their digital format allows those authors to contract for audiobook services. Companies like ACX connect freelance narrators with writers looking to have their books recorded. While some of the most popular audiobook narrators have been Hollywood voice actors, an increasing number of them are average Joes.
If you’re of a more charitable bent, you can also volunteer your vocal talents as an audiobook narrator. Librivox is always looking for volunteers to read public domain books. Closer to home, you might volunteer your talents with the Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL), a state-funded resource that provides audiobooks on special equipment for the blind. CTBL often needs people to volunteer their time reading in a professional studio. It’s a win-win situation, as you get experience in the art of narrating audiobooks while helping needy members of the community.
So if you want to be an audiobook narrator, give it a shot and put yourself out there. Who knows, you just might be the voice that gets me listening to stories again.
Love, ugh. If there’s a more overused theme in fiction than love, then I haven’t discovered it. Most novels focus on new love, that all-consuming stage at the beginning of a relationship when colors seem brighter, food more flavorful and the world full of boundless possibility. The main characters get together, lose each other, find each other, and then decamp to live in an idyllic state called happily-ever-after, which is always located just beyond the book’s final page.
Hanif Kureishi writes about love, too, only his novels pick up where others leave off. He waits until after the fireworks are over, and writes about what comes next. His work grapples with the real stuff of commitment: compromise, tolerance, effort, and dissatisfaction—all qualities of a real-world relationship, but nothing that you’ll ever hear mentioned in ads for Valentine’s Day.
Intimacy, one of Kureishi’s early works, is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of book, gone almost as soon as it begins. Weighing in at just over 100 pages, it tells of a middle-aged man’s evening at home with his wife and two young sons. Everything proceeds normally, domestic rituals are dutifully followed, and from appearances, there would seem to be nothing to distinguish this evening from any other. But this night is different, because in the morning, when the sun is just warming the earth, this man will rise from bed, take his suitcase and leave his family forever.
Intimacy is written as an internal monologue that the man is having with himself as he lives his last day at home. Although his plan is premeditated, his personal history intrudes, and through a series of flashbacks, the reader is given access to many past scenes from the man’s life. We also watch how he struggles to maintain his resolve, as he struggles with his doubts and very nearly decides to scrap the whole plan.
Kureishi’s main character offers us no catharsis, no epiphanies: everything he is (and everything he’ll become) depends upon a single choice that he will make in the morning. Nothing happens in Intimacy, but something will happen. And the weight of that anticipation, that all-important manner in which Kureishi holds that crucial moment suspended, make Intimacy a short but important read.
Typecasting is a curious thing. For actors with limited talent, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, one that allows them to go on working long after they’ve overstayed their welcome. But for versatile actors who become known for a single kind of role and are forced to go on repeating it, typecasting can be tragic.
Andy Griffith, best-remembered as the grinning and wholesome Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, is one of the latter. One of his earliest and finest roles was as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957). Shot in the years before cinema switched to Technicolor, this film tells the story of a fast-talking country boy found in the drunk tank of the city jail by local radio reporter Marcia Jeffries (played by Patricia Neal at her droll best). Never without his trusty guitar, Rhodes improvises songs and humorous stories that touch a nerve with the local radio audience, and seemingly overnight, he goes from being a provincial curiosity to a national sensation.
With the help of a genteel businessman, Rhodes makes the transition to television and becomes something more than an entertainer. Immensely popular, he’s tapped by politicians and captains of industry to back a candidate for president. In a relatively short time, he undergoes a startling transformation from indigent to kingmaker.
But Rhodes’s story is not your typical rags-to-riches story: it is an analysis of power itself. Having decided to back Senator Worthington Fuller for president, Rhodes tells Marcia Jefferies that his audience is nothing more than a bunch of
"…rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers - everybody that's got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don't know it, yet, but they're all gonna be 'Fighters for Fuller'. They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em.”
While he achieves fame by becoming a comical parody of the everyman, Lonesome Rhodes also feels out of place in the world of penthouses and cocktail parties. After a night on the town, he walks onto the terrace of his expensive apartment overlooking New York’s Central Park. In his anguish, he fingers the shriveled frond of a potted plant and says “Can’t keep anything alive up here. Dust in this city kills everything.” It’s then that the viewer realizes that Rhodes is not a character – he’s a caricature, and that by converting himself into a parody of homespun wisdom, he’s neither hobo nor power broker. He’s a figment of the imagination conjured by the very audience he despises, and without their validation, without their love and approval, he’s nothing.
This weekend, take a look at A Face in the Crowd. It’s a film at once humorous and sad, light and complex – one that has survived the test of time remarkably well. After laying eyes on the calculated shenanigans of Lonesome Rhodes, you’ll never be able to look at Opie’s dad in the same way again.
Tomorrow’s the big day! On Friday, September 20th, from 6 – 8:30 p.m. you can meet some of most engaging authors Colorado has to offer by going to the Arvada libray's Books and Bites program. Some of these writers are pretty well known already; others are gems waiting to be discovered. Many are award winners and finalists, including the four authors we’d like to introduce in our very last spotlight.
In 2013, several Colorado authors were finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards, the nation’s top prize for gay, lesbian, and transsexual literature. Two of those authors, Sean Eads and Matt Kailey, were discussed in previous spotlights. Now let’s take a closer look at the remaining Lambda finalists you can meet at Books and Bites.
Dan Stone’s first novel, The Rest of Our Lives, is a lighthearted and contemporary gay romantic fantasy featuring two male witches whose passion reincarnates century after century. Can this enchanting pair finally succeed after so many lifetimes? Dan is also the author of a poetry collection, Tricky Serum: An Elixir of Poems, and the short fiction collection, Coming To: A Collection of Erotic and Other Epiphanies. In addition to being an author and poet, he is a photographer and college instructor and he can be reached via his website.
The cartoons of Dylan Edwards (the artist occasionally known as NDR) have been published in a variety of venues, both in print and online, including his book Transposes and the Fantagraphics anthology No Straight Lines. You may remember him from such comics as his ongoing series Politically InQueerect, and his sports-themed cartoon The Outfield (published on OutSports.com from 2002-2009). Dylan Edwards' Transposes separates gender from sexuality and illustrates six fascinating true stories of transgender men who also happen to be queer. The result is laugh-out-loud funny, heartbreaking, challenging, inventive, informative, and invites the reader to explore what truly makes a man a man.
Jerry L. Wheeler is the editor of the Lambda Literary Award finalist Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from Under the Big Top, as well as the author of Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits, a collection of gay erotica, non-erotica, and essays, and also a Lambda finalist. He has edited three volumes of erotica for Bold Strokes Books, co-founded (with fellow author William Holden) Out in Print: Queer Book Reviews,and has completed a novel for Lethe Press called The Dead Book. Please feel free to contact him at Out in Print or his website.
Kieran York’s lesbian romance novel Appointment with a Smile is a gentle delight. Romance tends to focus on characters in the prime of their life. But does romance end after middle-age? You might think so if you based your assumptions on publishing trends. Kieran’s introspective romance is a moving tribute to the power of love, the choices we make in our lives, and the possibility of starting over again. You can visit with Kieran on her website.
If you're ready to meet all of these great authors, come down to the Arvada library this Friday. See you at 6:30!
It’s getting about that time, folks! Books and Bites at the Arvada Library is just around the corner. Are you ready to meet some incredible authors on Friday, September 20th from 6:30 – 8 PM?
Right now we're going to introduce you to some more writers who'll be there.
Donna Shannon’s latest book couldn’t be more timely in the current economic climate. Donna’s a career coach with years of experience helping people find employment and take control of their job. Her book How to Get a Job Without Going Crazy is definitely worth a look if you want the inside scoop on how to land the best work you can.
Of course, if you’re stressed out about unemployment (or anything else for that matter), you might want to take the advice Marilyn Raff has to offer and reconnect to nature through gardening. Marilyn has been a professional gardener for 25 years, and she has written extensively on the subject in books like The Intuitive Gardener. More recently, she’s expanded her writing to include poetry. In the Palm of the Land: poems offers beautiful vignettes about the transformative power of gardens in one's life.
Author Matt Kailey knows something about transformation as well. An award-winning author, blogger, and community activist living in Denver, Matt started his transition from female to male in 1997, and since then he has educated thousands of people across the United States and the world as a keynote speaker, presenter, and writer focusing on transgender and transsexual issues. His book Focus on the Fabulous is an entertaining collection of fiction, nonfiction, poetry from Colorado GLBT writers. His other books Teeny Weenies and Other Short Subjects and Just Add Hormones: An Insider’s Guide to the Transsexual Experience were Lambda Literary Award finalists.
Anyone with even a passing interest in mysteries will recognize Robert Greer's name. Robert is a professor of pathology, medicine and dermatology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical campus in Aurora, and the author of thirteen novels. His latest, Astride a Pink Horse, is a mystery that starts with the discovery of a decorated African American Air Force veteran found naked, dead, and dangling by his ankles inside a deactivated minuteman missile silo in desolate southeastern Wyoming. The investigation reveals deceit, revenge, broken government and memories of the horrors of World War II, the Cold War, and the dawn of the atomic age.
J.M. Mitchell's extensive insider experience with the National Park Service makes his suspense novel Public Trust frighteningly realistic. He was Chief of the agency's Biological Resource Management Division and retired after 36 years of service, having worked in Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, Washington, D.C. and Fort Collins, Colorado. He worked on many of the most controversial issues facing the national parks, and knew the privilege--and sometimes the pain--of public service. Public Trust is a gripping read about an honest ranger caught in a political firestorm when he returns to the canyons of New Mexico, and has to face hard truths about integrity and trust.
Manuel Ramos is the author of eight published novels including Colorado Book Award winner and Edgar finalist The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz. His recent crime drama Desperado: A Mile High Noir is classic Ramos, flush with details about Denver's North Side and its seedy undercurrent of drugs and gang violence. Manuel is a master of setting who has the ability to turn Denver itself into a character in his novel. Think you know the city well? After deliving into Manuel's novels, you might change your mind!
These and many more great writers look forward to meeting you this Friday, September 20th, at the Arvada Library for Books and Bites.
If you’ve been following these spotlights on the authors appearing at the Arvada library’s Books and Bites program on Friday, September 20th from 6-8:30, you know we think we have a stellar lineup.
But in the case of author Michael Carroll, maybe we should make that an interstellar lineup. Michael specializes in space drawings, creating some of the most amazing artwork you’ll find anywhere. His book Drifting on Alien Winds: Exploring the Skies and Weather of Other Worlds is simply a breathtaking flight of scientific imagination and insight that includes engaging interviews with notable scientists. From lightning storms on Jupiter to the lethal hurricane-force winds of Venus, Michael’s stunning visuals create depths of discovery that demand your attention.
Of course Colorado’s own weather has seemed a little alien lately, so Michael’s next book may keep him closer to home!
Our next author, however, is someone who most definitely didn’t stay closer to home. Determined to raise global awareness about breast cancer, Polly Letofsky became the first woman to walk around the world when she set out from her Colorado home and headed west across four continents and over 14,000 miles—by foot. Polly recounts her amazing story in 3mph: The Adventures of One Woman's Walk Around the World, a humorous, honest and inspirational narrative that encourages us all to take on our biggest challenges—one step at a time.
Our third author’s story might seem to split the difference between Michael’s extraterrestrial landscapes and Polly’s global trek. Alaska can seem like its worlds away, after all, but Naomi Gaede-Penner’s RX for Adventure: Bush Pilot Doctor brings it closer to home as she recalls growing up in Anchorage, Tanana, and Soldotna. Besides offering fascinating details about Alaska as it was pre-statehood, Naomi’s memoir has intergenerational appeal. How many children had mothers who were handy with both a chainsaw and an axe? Or can say their father was a doctor who made house calls by plane and once had a monkey for a patient? Are you intrigued yet?
The last two authors in this spotlight, Dick Kreck and Wilma Gundy, remind us of Colorado’s own adventurous history and proves the truth in John Lennon’s famous quote, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Dick doesn’t need much introduction to area readers, as he was an editor and columnist at The Denver Post for 38 years. His previous books include the bestsellers Murder at the Brown Palace and Smaldone. His latest book, Hell on Wheels, chronicles the rootin'-tootin' towns that sprang up during the construction of the Union Pacific railroad in the 1860s. Readers may find that delving into that often-sordid history is no less strange than visiting Venus with Michael Carroll.
Wilma is a Colorado native who grew up on the eastern plains and taught English in the metro area for 35 years. Her memoir My Life Without a Stage Manager features both memories of a Depression-era childhood as one of nine children on a farm, and recollections of her adult life. Powerful on their own, readers may find Wilma’s recollections of her adventures as her family endured drought, grasshoppers, and dust storms make a perfect complement to books like The Worst Hard Time.
We hope you are enjoying these author spotlights and will come meet these fine writers and artists at the Arvada Library on Friday, September 20th from 6:30 – 8 PM.