Watching our figures

vintage-649760_1920Of all the City of Round Rock departments you know about—Utilities, Transportation, Parks and Recreation, Police, Fire, etc.—which group springs to mind when you think of exercise and fitness?

You didn’t name “Library”, did you?

And yet–so far–this year’s Million Mile Month participation by City of Round Rock includes more entries from the library than from any other department.   As of this morning, the City overall ranks 12th in the nation for the 2015 MMM.

Some of our pedometer-wearing staffers logged premium miles darting from session to session at last week’s Texas Library Association conference at the Austin Convention Center (which hosted an impressive attendance of nearly 8,000).  Five librarians from RRPL’s youth and reference departments were presenters or panelists at TLA this year.

That’s four statistics already.  For literary types, we librarians can certainly obsess over numbers.

When we meet other library professionals, we establish focus by sharing our type of library (school, academic, special, public) and service population size.  Our customer base—over 100,000—prompts the question “How many branches?”—and “zero” is not the expected response.

Another eye-opener:  Did you know that many of the bestselling e-books that the library purchases from Big Five publishers cost $84 for a single, one-user-at-a-time copy?

Customers at the Reference Desk frequently seek numbers.   Earlier this week, requested data involved the population of Texas in 1845, including demographic breakdowns for women, slaves, Native Americans, etc.  Given that 1845 was, while not a census year, otherwise a very busy one for the brand-new state (and that views regarding who is and isn’t significant enough to count are more enlightened today), this was a tall order.

We generate plenty of questions among ourselves:  What percentage of the budget should go to e-books instead of print?  What expectations do new library cardholders bring with them from other states and different libraries?  What reading and information tastes characterize Round Rock?

No wonder we find circulation statistics so compelling.  Thank you, Rhonda and Tricia, for these examples:

Round Rock Public Library cardholders:  57,914
Books checked out by cardholders over the life of their accounts:  6,666,466
Physical items owned by the library:  220,057
Electronic items/products owned by the library:  4,243
Indic books:  206
Chinese-language books:  1163
Spanish-language books:  2057
Music CDs:  4,580

Nonfiction titles with most checkouts at Round Rock Public Library in the past 12 months:
Guinness Book of Records
Unbroken: a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Cracking the SAT
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Cracking the GED

Fiction titles with most checkouts at RRPL in the past 12 months:
The Husband’s Secret
Gone Girl
Sycamore Row
Target
Gray Mountain
The Goldfinch
Top Secret Twenty-One
Personal: a Jack Reacher novel
The Gods of Guilt
Unlucky 13

Title with the longest queue: All the Light We Cannot See

DVDs with most checkouts at RRPL in the past 12 months:
Saving Mr. Banks
Man of Steel
Iron Man 3

One final count:  how many of Taylor Stevens’ Vanessa Michael Munroe series books does RRPL own?

Answer:  Except for The Vessel— we’re purchasing it in e-book format–all of them (The Mask won’t be out until this summer).  Fans of Lee Child and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy should look into Stevens’ gritty, suspenseful series beginning with The Informationist.

Better still, come meet Taylor Stevens in person (and learn about her fascinating background).  The New York Times best-selling author will be in the library gallery on Wednesday, May 6, from 6-8:00 P.M.  Frank Campbell of Round Rock’s Barnes & Noble store will be facilitating book sales.

April art and anticipation

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As a certain mid-April deadline approaches, queues for Foundation Communities’ Community Tax Center assistance at the library are lengthening, but not as much as you’d think.  Ever since the sessions opened up back in January, area residents have been streaming in with hopes of completing their returns well and in a timely fashion.

For those among you fortunate enough to enjoy the smugness of early filing, there’s the pleasant option of penciling in an activity that–unlike the project assigned by the IRS–actually celebrates creativity.  Coincidentally, I know of two that also feature April 15 completion dates:

For starters, you could rev up your imagination with the Round Rock Arts Council’s Have A Ball Contest (check out complete details here).  The idea is to create a work of art from a baseball (or multiple baseballs).  You can even stop by ArtSpace at 231 East Main to pick up a free ball for your masterpiece. Categories include individuals, businesses and organizations, and elementary, middle school, and high school.  Entries will be auctioned at the Round Rock Express game on April with proceeds to benefit art scholarships and the RRAC.

Just be sure to have your entry in by 3:00 P.M. on April 15–and prepare for some competition.  From what I overheard just this afternoon–and naturally can’t divulge particulars about–the library’s entry will be eye-catching, a quirky transformation.

And it was only one of several unexpected inspirations generated by the creators’ discussion.   Studying the same basic white baseball, everyone imagined distinctive possibilities for translating it into art.  (I have to wonder if our library customers, known to comment on staffers’ grasp of titles, facts, and processes, suspect how much imagination and outside-the-box thinking swirls around in the same heads that appear always focused on library accounts and database selection).

Frank Campbell of the Round Rock Barnes & Noble just alerted us to another April 15 (that’s a Wednesday, 7:00 P.M.) event dear to the hearts of Harper Lee fans.  Anticipating the July 14 release of Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, the La Frontera B&N will host a discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Where this classic is concerned, few folks contemplate the book without the movie (or vice versa), so both will be considered here.  And a special TKAM trivia contest will be part of the fun!

Not too busy to stop and smell the tulips

It may be spring break, but folks in Round Rock never stop doing their homework.Semper Augustus Tulip

The Improvements for Your Home display tower on second floor requires constant monitoring to refill empty slots:  volumes of wiring tips, bathroom plans, room makeovers, repair techniques and such are snapped up by residents determined to get the target project done like the pros would–or to confirm that this really is a job for said pros.  Consumer Reports fans know that the April issue is all about cars and have been asking for it at the Reference Desk; local auto dealers must be accustomed to well-informed shoppers.

Knowing this, when trailers for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  first appeared, we expected increased demand for our DVDs of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  As one patron explained, “I know the background from the first movie, but my friend doesn’t–and she really should before seeing this one.”

Like the locals, actors in the Marigold  films are staying busy.  Bill Nighy has at least three roles either in post-production or filming status since Second Best.  Richard Gere, not in the first installment but notably on board for the second, reportedly has two post-Marigold roles in the works, in addition to his photography and social activism via the Gere Foundation.  For Tom Wilkinson (in the first Marigold cast but not the second), Internet Movie Database lists seventeen recent roles, including that other hotel success, The Grand Budapest, and Selma (he portrays LBJ).  Examples of additional work for the Marigold crew—these you can check them out from the library on DVD–include Dev Patel in The Newsroom and Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton in Downton Abbey.

Among Dame Judi Dench’s film projects are Peregrine’s Home for Peculiars, inspired by Ransom Riggs’ popular Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and directed by (who else?) Tim Burton.

But the mention I most rejoiced to see is Dench’s role in Tulip Fever.  Set in Amsterdam, this drama (due out sometime this year) borrows the unusual backdrop of an early market bubble—17th century speculation in tulip bulbs.  A 2004 film starring Jude Law and Keira Knightley was ultimately abandoned due to tax issues; this iteration features a screenplay by Sir Tom Stoppard. Coincidentally, the novel behind this movie was written by Deborah Moggach–author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Celia Imrie (in both Marigold films; she also played Colin Firth’s bride-to-be in Nanny McPhee) has completed a new project since Second Best; RRPL cardholders can also watch her in the earlier short film The Man Who Married Himself via the library’s Indieflix subscription.  And now Imrie has published a novel whose premise promises appeal for Marigold and Peter Mayle fans: the charms and hazards of living abroad.  It’s titled Not Quite Nice and judged by Booklist to be “funny” and “over the top”; Library Journal recommends it for “readers seeking a breezy read with a touch of romance and mystery and a heroine they can relate to”.

One of Imrie’s associates tagged it as simply “a very witty novel by a very witty woman”: that’s Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey.

Views from above and below

CunardTwoErik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania will be out soon–March 10–but the reviews (e.g., “…history at its harrowing best”) have me wishing I could get my hands on an advance copy this weekend.  If you have one you’re willing to lend, there’s a batch of brownies in it for you…

Larson consistently proves his gift for avid historical research that lends compelling new insights into milestones like the 1900 Galveston hurricane (Isaac’s Storm).  His telling portrayals of individuals’ lives beforehand amplify our comprehension of the aftermath.

The centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania (Hampton Sides calls it “the other Titanic”) has prompted numerous new entries on the subject. Among them, maritime researcher Eric Sauder, noted for expertise regarding passenger ships of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has two new volumes forthcoming: The Unseen Lusitania: The Ship in Rare Illustrations (May 1) and RMS Lusitania: A History in Picture Postcards (July 1).

Poignant cover art fronting these books depicts Cunard’s proud liner steaming ahead to a fate we know too well.   A small, perfunctory item from the Imperial German Embassy published in newspapers days before the ship’s departure had cautioned that “travellers sailing in the war zone…do so at their own risk”.  We can’t know how many passengers were ignorant of the warning and how many read and dismissed it. I picture them as relaxed and happy, focused on novelty of the journey and proximity of the destination, caught utterly by surprise when the torpedo streaked toward them from below.

My latest WWI-era (fiction) read, on the other hand, depicts danger from above and residents, not voyagers, who do acutely sense danger.  The centerpiece of Esther Freud’s wonderful Mr. Mac and Me is an imagined friendship between famed artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and teenaged Thomas Maggs, son of a pub owner in a coastal village in Suffolk. (Macintosh actually did sojourn in a similar setting in 1914). Freud also memorably portrays civilians’ experiences in wartime—food shortages, hyper-awareness of outsiders and their motives, upended routines, strange new regulations—and zeppelins.

Both the village lad and the artist are out of their elements.  The sensitive, cultured “Mac” would much prefer to be in his beloved Glasgow, but the seaside venue is meant to improve his health and economize on living expenses. Because “Mac” is frequently seen wandering and examining his surroundings (he paints wildflowers), the villagers reckon he’s a spy.  Thomas’ own artistic bent, encouraged only by Mackintosh, is ignored by family and discouraged by his teacher.  Declaring his fervent wish to work as a sailor on a seagoing vessel, he is reminded that his lameness (no barrier to work around home and pub) would render him useless there.

Through Thomas’ eyes, readers share the terror of Zeppelin raids–or the mere sight of the dirigibles looming above.  Running homeward one night, Thomas hears “the roar of thunder through a cloud” and then, “there it is, the round belly of a Zeppelin, directly overhead.  The noise fills the whole sky.”  Another time, he is awakened by the engine roar; the airship crew ultimately decides not to save all their bombs for London and drops one just down the street.

To combat the distress of these seemingly constant visitations, Thomas imagines what he would invent if he had Count Zeppelin’s financial resources:  “A submarine….I picture it streaking to the defence of any ship that is in trouble, scooping the grateful men into its hold.”

If you join a request list for either of these marvelous reads, consider some of the library’s other recent World War I-related acquisitions while you’re waiting:

FICTION
An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd
Hope Rising by Stacy Henrie
The Canal Bridge: a Novel of Ireland, Love, and the First World War by Tom Phelan
After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson
Silence for the Dead by Simone S. James
The Meaning of Names: a Novel by Karen Gettert Shoemaker

NONFICTION
A Higher Form of Killing : Six Weeks in World War I that Forever Changed the Nature of Warfare by Diana Preston
Behind the Lines : WWI’s Little-known Story of German Occupation, Belgian Resistance, and the Band of Yanks who Saved Billions from Starvation … by Jeffrey B. Miller
Ring of Steel : Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I  by Alexander Watson
The Unsubstantial Air : American Fliers in the First World War  by Samuel Hynes
World War I : The Definitive Visual Guide : from Sarajevo to Versailles / R.G. Grant, et. al.
A Mad Catastrophe : the Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire by Geoffrey Wawro

Better living through Friends

Why I’m not a morning person:  the tendency to awaken with sudden realization of yesterday’s missteps.

The first conscious thought the day after our Book Buzz event:  Robert–our Penguin Random House rep and speaker–hadn’t been supplied with a bottle of water and probably hadn’t been urged to partake of the appetizers and cheesecake we served.   This is no way to treat someone who drove miles to get here, provided book bags and galley copies for a crowd, and did a great job talking up forthcoming books.  But our unusual task completely preoccupied us.

When Robert arrived, the four of us were decanting platters of gourmet appetizers just delivered by the caterer.  Beholding the elegance of the hors d’ oeuvres, we joked about the rarity of the experience (and indeed of an occasion to say “hors d’ oeuvres”).  For us, fancy catering resides squarely in the Not Part of My Life category.  We devised serving patterns, juggled trays, and dispensed goodies while Robert shared publishing back stories and plot hooks with the mocktail-sipping audience.

Ultimately, the food and presentation got rave reviews–and we avoided lobbing pesto-coated mozzarella skewers onto anyone’s favorite jacket or shoes.  Knowing the hazards of food service, we invited guests to pick up their own beverages.

The advantage of using reference librarians for wait staff is that, should spillage occur, we’d know where to find the best stain removal tips.  But without Friends of the Round Rock Public Library we’d have had no such worries.  We’d also have had no refreshments.

As one library patron commented, “Children’s programs are very important–I get that.  But we grownups like to have our share of the attention, too.”  With this in mind, and given attendee swag from Penguin Random House, we shared our vision of a memorable adult event with the Friends group.  They furnished the money for the rare catering treat.

In recent years, Friends of RRPL has funded summer reading program prizes (really good ones), a staff appreciation event, hired presenters for children’s programs, extra shelving, eBooks, movie licensing fees, the popular Book Page handouts, and many other enhancements that benefit youth, tweens, teens, and adults.  Thanks to FOL, these are made available to taxpayers without additional taxpayer expense.

FOL inspects, sorts, and carts thousands of donations up to the Book Nook, an enterprise furnishing new homes for books, fabulous bargains for savvy shoppers, and proceeds to improve the user experience at the library.  How they accomplish so much so quietly is beyond me.  While their profile is understated, their impact is anything but.

Actually, that’s a great premise for the next National Novel Writing Month—imagine a super-high-profile Friends organization emanating the glamour and power of a secret society (think Da Vinci Code) or covert operation.  They’d be whispered about, even feared!  Everyone would hope to infiltrate, or—better yet–join them!  I’ve read (and certainly written) worse.

In the meantime, RRPL’s nonfictional and thankfully mild-mannered Friends group is planning some very entertaining fundraisers for next month…

Strange encounter at the library

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When you think horror, think Round Rock Public Library!

Wait–that didn’t come out right.  But we do want fans of terrifying tales to know that we purchase books for them; those chillers are shelved among other fiction, which explains the absence of a “Horror” sign.  Search the library catalog with the subject “horror fiction“, and you’ll see.

Or–just ask us.  The Reference Desk can supply lots of reasons for you to become totally creeped out.  (That didn’t come out right, either.)

Recent library acquisitions in the genre include The Vines by Christopher Rice; The Deep by Nick Cutter; The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith; River of Souls by Robert R. McCammon, Bird Box by Josh Malerman, The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero, and The Vanishing by Wendy Webb.

And consider Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library, which terrifies me far more than the average reader because I’m a librarian.  This little tale (with wonderfully quirky alternating page illustrations) vividly portrays the sort of user experience that libraries strive every day not to achieve.

The first page evokes trepidation: a boy approaches the circulation desk–guiltily, because his shoes squeak.  There he encounters a surly librarian who, affronted by this distraction from her book, slams the volume down upon the counter.  (If you see one of us engrossed in pages while working a service desk, it’s because we’re reading reviews for book selection; we know that you’re more important.  But I digress.)

The not-ready-for-customer-service-award staffer proves just the leading edge of the young customer’s ordeal.  Throughout everything, the boy charmingly retains his sense of properly-brought-up reason: he questions that the vast, labyrinthine basement to which he is directed could logically exist beneath a public library, given that “public libraries like this one were always short of money”.

Perhaps we should capitalize and promote ourselves as “basement-free!”, “staffed by non-terrifying people!” and “guaranteed not to imprison our customers!”– selling points sure to resonate with readers of Murakami’s whimsically nightmarish scenario.

Frankly, we’re always on the hunt for any point to demonstrate our relevance.  We despair over folks who haven’t visited a library in many years (maybe their shoes are squeaky) and sustain the old stereotype of book warehouses that “nobody needs anymore”.  If these folks dropped by, they’d encounter computers, youth programs brimming with children and parents, volunteer tax assistance, an art gallery, helpful live assistance to find and use resources, study rooms and carrels in use—many more options beyond print.

They wouldn’t see the free Wi-Fi that so many customers depend upon.  And actually a significant portion of the service we now provide is invisible to those just surveying the premises.  Consider thousands of customers who tap into our digital resources—available 24/7 from home or wherever–and don’t forget mobile device users who download eBooks, music, articles, etc. and communicate with us online.

And we’re part of the problem, continually marketing our convenient digital resources, reminding customers that—as much as we love to see them in person—they can access our information remotely.

…Which means that you, too, could be part of the Vast Unseen Horde of Library Users. (Perhaps that will be Murakami’s next title).  Mwahahahaha!

The buzz stops here

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Have you heard about Book Buzz yet?  On February 17, our Penguin Random House library rep will be on hand to share the insider publisher scoop from New York City, forecasting popular titles for the months ahead.  PRH is sending enough “Keep Calm and Read” tote bags, advanced reading copies of forthcoming titles, and catalogs for everyone (which is why we must limit registration to 75; you can register here.)  The ARC you take home could be the next Gone Girl or Gray Mountain.

AND staff will be circulating among attendees with trays of goodies and “mocktails”.  Those nonalcoholic treats were a hit when we served them before.  It’s fun to sip colorful beverages and pretend they’re upscale concoctions at a fancy New York venue.

As long as we’re imagining– just think what diverting library programs we could expect if our favorite fictional characters were presenters.  What if one of these protagonists from recent popular fiction were the speaker for a future library event?

Matt Biggs from Kenneth Calhoun’s Black Moon:  The first thing you’d notice would be our guest lecturer’s disheveled appearance. However distracted, incoherent, and sleep-deprived he might appear, he’s better off than most of the population; they’re unable to sleep at all and currently shambling about in red-eyed derangement (also seeking to destroy anyone suspected of not sharing their fate).  Hmmm, before we share further insights about Mr. Biggs, I’ll just step over and check the lock on that exterior door…

Claire Frasier from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (most recent, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood):  Claire’s 20th-century medical know-how impresses–and rescues– characters in earlier centuries; her encyclopedic knowledge of herbal remedies and contributions to the Revolutionary War and other landmark events would dazzle audiences here.  One caveat:  should the persuasive Claire need to intervene in some distant era, she’ll depart for the nearest stone circle on another time-traveling mission before she’s finished her presentation–and some audience members will have acquiesced to the “loan” of their engagement rings.

Tsukuru (from Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage):  However much the audience may long to engage Tsukuru in an empathetic de-briefing of his so-called friends’ wrongful accusation and shunning, let’s not.  Instead, we should bolster his self-esteem by rapt attention to his lecture on the intricacies of train station architecture.

Sarah, the housemaid from Jo Baker’s Longbourn:   This servant’s unvarnished below-stairs reportage of the Bennet family (of Pride and Prejudice fame) will keep attendees riveted–and we will not invite the poor girl to serve the refreshments.   Gossip generated by a houseful of marriageable daughters, inheritance worries, the handsome new footman (and let’s not forget family secrets) will tide us over until the next Season Five episode of you-know-what on PBS.

Matthew Clairmont from Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy (most recent, The Book of Life):   Vampire Matthew could enlighten us on numerous topics:  many centuries’ worth of eye witnessing historic events; his close personal relationship with Christopher Marlowe; wine; stonemasonry.  But aren’t we primarily interested in just getting a good look at him?

Round Rock Night before Christmas 2014 (or, The Truth about Our Favorite Public Library Customer)

 

‘Tis Christmas Eve
night, and Round Rock’s slumber-bound,
In the mood for a
holiday story profound.

We desire an account of
Saint Nick’s successes
With gifts all conveyed
before dawn coalesces.

But what if, instead,
this page shared revelations
Concerning the hero of
our expectations?

For Santa’s not perfect:
he’s prone to distraction.
His helpers must
frequently re-direct action.

It now can be told that
the elves micromanage—
But kindly and always to
Santa’s advantage.

For starters, they have
to hide Santa’s e-reader
Beneath a tall,
festively-trimmed North Pole cedar.  

They’ve learned that
their leader’s delivery pace quickens
When he yearns to get
back to John Grisham or Dickens.

The elves also know that
attractions in Round Rock
Represent, for tight
schedules, a stumbling block.

When the windows of
ArtSpace or sculpture displays
Snag Santa’s attention,
they drag him away.

Ditto for the fabulous
Rock’N Lights drive,
Of which (most
regrettably) Santa’s deprived.

On the other hand, Santa
applies to his mission
Perceptions ascribed to
a master tactician.

Supplying his sleigh
with an awesome sufficiency,
He briskly embodies a
modern efficiency.

His app-laden phone can
pinpoint chimney mounts,
And the cookie-and-milk
tracker calories counts.

GPS-guided reindeer
precisely chart courses,
So you’d think all
things digital Santa endorses.

Well, you’d be mostly
right (though no techie device
Has proven to properly
check his lists twice).

No, Santa’s a type both
admired and exemplary:
Respecting tradition and
21st century.

And that is
what–library staffers exclaim–
Endears him to us even
more than his fame.  

Like Santa, we offer a
new-and-old fusion,
So customers’ smiles are
a foregone conclusion.

With our databases,
classics, and fiction debuts,
We even helped Santa
check product reviews.

He never would outsource
the checking of lists
But is glad when the
library lends an assist

With elf-pleasing story
times
, demographics, and guidance
On suppliers of toys and
requested appliances.

We pretend that we don’t
comprehend his ID,
Detect his disguise and
his purpose foresee.

He’s a library patron
adored and ambitious
So on Christmas Eve we
set out something delicious.

No baked goods or
dairy—no, we intervene
With a tall foamy mug
brimming full of caffeine.

And thus fortified for
the rest of his flight,
Santa’s certain to wish
one and all a Good Night

And Peace, Joy, and
Happiness, Joyeux Noel,
From all of your friends
here at RRPL!

——————————————————–

From 2013:  “Rocksssanne’s Christmas Eve Ramble”

And, 2012’s “The Night Before Christmas at Round Rock Public Library”

The gift that keeps on changing

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like a wrapping a present and not giving it.  –William Arthur Ward

There!  With someone else’s graceful expression, I address the ThanksgivingBlackFridayChristmas mash-up constructively — unlike what happened at home:  Schlepping laundry across the TV-viewing area last week, I spied a beloved holiday (hint: not Thanksgiving) production radiating merrily from the screen.  In tones better reserved for violent or slanderous content, I huffed, “Are you kidding me???” and stomped out. 

“Told you,” my daughter observed to my husband.

Thanksgiving, until recently, represented our last chance for appreciative reflection before the onslaught of commercial appeals to max out our credit cards in pursuit of Holiday Magic. However, as confirmed by increasing numbers of retail employees obliged to depart family gatherings early or miss them altogether to staff pre-Black Friday promotions, standards continue to evolve. 

Chief among blessings I count are novels that explore facets of contemporary experience, thus helping us acquire greater perspective and process change.   

These forthcoming books — I’ve already designated them for library purchase — could accomplish that:

John Vaillant’s The Jaguar’s Children (Jan. 2015) imagines the plight of illegal immigrants abandoned in the Arizona desert in a broken-down water truck that has been welded shut in what Luis Alberto Urrea (The Devil’s Highway) calls …a real-world horror worthy of Stephen King.”

Detroit’s financial troubles precipitate the plight of a hard-working family in Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House (4/21/15) as their cherished investment falls victim to economic decline.

Readers heartened by the posthumous awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to three civil rights workers slain in 1964 should watch for Ravi Howard’s Driving the King (1/6/15), set in 1950s Montgomery but based on an actual incident in Birmingham.  After a friend leaps onstage to defend Cole from a white audience member’s attack and consequently draws a prison sentence, Cole hires him as his chauffeur/bodyguard in Los Angeles. 

The Navy studies of combat roles for female soldiers could spark interest in these stories about other women in traditionally male spheres:  Angelina Mirabella’s The Sweetheart (1/20/15)–women’s professional wrestling in the early 1950s, and Anna Freeman’s The Fair Fight (4/14/15) –a female bare-knuckle fighter pursuing fame in 18th-century England.

If you’re intrigued by trends in workplace culture, try these soon-available novels, both of which have elicited comparisons to Kafka:  Swedish actor/playwright Jonas Karlsson’s The Room (2/17/15) features a government employee who surmounts his co-workers’ disdain by creating a special private workspace not visible to others.  The Guard by Peter Terrin (1/6/15) envisions a not-too-distant future in which Harry and Michel, confined to the basement of the luxury apartment building they are hired to secure, begin to sense that no one is left to protect…

Not (thankfully) related to actual events, Robert Repino’s Mort(e) depicts an Orwellian upending of society–ants, in league with four-legged creatures, have taken over the world.  Look for it on 1/20/15; in the meantime, be especially kind to your pets.  

And the many fans of Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project will be grateful to follow developments (no spoilers here!) in The Rosie Effect, due out December 30.

All I want is a room somewhere (else)

It’s tempting to channel Eliza Dolittle, imagining what would be architecturally “loverly” even before blueprints for the new library get underway.

 

Recently I speculated how our workflow would benefit if staff offices were situated close together, so that we could quickly step over and consult with someone involved in cataloging, processing, or some other aspect of collection development.  Julie, who’d just trekked across second floor from her office to return a journal to the Reference office, nodded:   Yeah,” she agreed, “like the Panopticon in Horrorstor!”

 

Now, that Panopticon is a dreadful (and thankfully fictional) destination.  But take away the torture devices and utter despair, and you have an undeniably collaborative floor plan.  We gave Julie a thumbs-up.

 

But then ideas from unexpected sources are always energizing.  My current TV favorite, Flea Market Flip, could run for decades before I’d tire of cheering its intrepid contestants. With budget and list in hand, they troll through acres of random stuff, suddenly halting to exclaim over sad, damaged chairs, rusty industrial parts, and unstylish bedroom suites. Combining vision and an encyclopedic knowledge of crafts (and usually spray paint) they rehabilitate their finds into trendy creations sold at a profit.

 

Though not a fan of the ubiquitous Midcentury end table projects, I admire the fusion of thrift, repurposing, and out-of-the-box inspiration. 

 

That said, I clearly need to balance imagination with attention to more conventional goings-on.   Here it is November–National Novel Writing Month–and I’m not participating due to zero plot ideas.  But other authors have been alert to life as we know it.  Their titles demonstrate the appeal of burnishing already-relatable themes–less spray paint, more polish:

 

Monica McInerney’s Hello from the Gillespies   entertainingly considers the Annual Christmas Letter tradition.  Recipients of other families’ oh-so-perfect holiday newsletters (a demographic which includes everyone I know) have surely wondered which events went unreported.  And consider the soul-freeing option of at least momentarily committing to holiday-themed paper (or email) all the disappointments and frustrations blotting one’s past year.  What could possibly go wrong there?

 

William Hazelgrove gift-wraps another Yuletide standard, the Santa Claus question, in Real Santa.  A classic scenario–father recently unemployed yet determined to preserve a child’s delight in magic—ramps up extravagantly; this father knows the right people (or so he believes) and spares no expense.  From the Booklist review:  “If somebody doesn’t make a movie out of this book, there’s something wrong with the world.”

 

Julie Schumacher’s heartwarmingly satirical Dear Committee Members stars English professor Jason Fitger in a Grinch-y role.  Fitger’s department is underfunded, downtrodden, and forced to dodge plummeting chunks of plaster while the Economics department one floor above gets a posh renovation.  Furious and faced with a constant inflow of requests for letters of recommendation, Jason finally (and luckily for fiction fans) resorts to decrying wrongs and venting outrage via all those LORs.

 

Imagine availing oneself of an established informational channel just to publicize one’s observations!  What kind of person would do that?