Friday, August 28, 2009

Goodbye Old Friends

It was a sad week indeed with the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy. Whether you liked his politics or not, you had to admit that the man took public service to another level. Like most Americans, I can't remember a time when he was not a senator. It feels like an institution has closed its doors after almost 50 years of operation.

Writer Dominick Dunne died on the same day this week. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Dunne specialized in novels loosely based on real murders. An Inconvenient Woman was rumored to be about the mysterious death of Alfred Bloomingdale's mistress. A City Not My Own was most certainly inspired by the O.J. Simpson trial. A Season in Purgatory was based on the murder of Martha Moxley, a crime which ultimately sent Ethel Kennedy's nephew Michael Skakel to jail.

Tragically, Dunne's own daughter was a victim of murder. An ex-boyfriend stalked her and killed her when she was 22 years old. Dominick often attributed his obsession with celebrity murderers to this sad event. Somehow, his writing about the rich ones who literally got away with murder gave him solace.

I started reading Dunne's books because of my good friend Janet. In 1994, she had recently married and moved to Los Angeles, and when we spoke on the phone the topic was O.J., O.J. and O.J. Like millions of other Americans, Janet was fixated on the trial and told me that she first got hooked when she read an article about Simpson in Vanity Fair magazine. The article was written by Dominick Dunne who gathered all sorts of evidence and rumor about the murders, much of which was ruled inadmissible in court.

Then I start reading Dunne's articles in Vanity Fair, and like a virus, I too was infected. From there, it was a short hop, skip and a jump to his novels. So somehow, when I think of Dominick Dunne my memory calls up images of the Simpson trial, and the summer of 1994 when I visited Janet and we went to the courthouse to see the media circus. There was an area across the street filled with media trailers and camera equipment. There were protesters for and against Simpson. But mostly there were street vendors, making a buck off the lunacy. (I bought a t-shirt with a photo of Simpson trying on the glove with text that screamed "IT DOESN'T FIT!" Janet bought a jello mold in the shape of Judge Ito's head. I am not making this up.)

Dominick Dunne's death is completely overshadowed by Ted Kennedy's, of course. This happens often, in fact, recently happened again with the deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. And do you know what day both C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley died? November 22, 1963.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I Ain't Blowin' Smoke

A few months back, Cheryl wrote in this blog about reading Westerns. I took her suggestion to heart and I read the Appaloosa series by Robert Parker. I also liked 'em. They took me to another time and place. But now I can't get that twang out of my voice or them cliches out of my head.

Then I heard that Elmer Kelton had died this week. Or should I say he rode off into the sunset. I imagine he went down swinging and died with his boots on. Elmer Kelton was an award winning western writer. I have never read his books but I will now. True West magazine said, "One thing is certain: as long as there are writers as skillful as Elmer Kelton, Western literature will never die." I hope that is true, but I have seen the number of western books being published dwindle over the years, and the number of people who come to the library looking for them get fewer and farther between.

So in honor of Mr. Kelton and the western novel, here are some quotes that came from that genre (some inspirational and others not so much).
The easiest way to eat crow is while it's still warm. The colder it gets, the harder it is to swaller.
Sometimes you get and sometimes you get got.
Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.
If you're ridin' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there with ya.
Don't worry about bitin' off more'n you can chew; your mouth is probably a whole lot bigger'n you think.
It don't take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.
If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.
Don't interfere with something that ain't botherin' you none.
Always drink upstream from the herd.
Never miss a good chance to shut up.
Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.
We all got pieces of crazy in us, some bigger pieces than others.
Some men talk 'cause they got somethin' to say. Others talk 'cause they got to say somethin.
Ride the horse in the direction it's goin.
Go after life as if it's something that's got to be roped in a hurry before it gets away.
I'd give ya some more but that'd be like beatin' a dead horse. But if you got a western saying you want to pass on or a western book to recommend put her down here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My New Favorite Author OR "What the H*** Did I Just See"

My new favorite author is Pete Dexter. I haven't read anything by him yet--I plan to remedy that very soon--but I saw the self-deprecating, wily and laugh-out loud funny author on Book TV a couple weeks ago and he is now my new favorite-author-that-I-have-yet-to-read but must. Any author who can make me laugh out loud like that goes on the must-read list.

Book TV, on C-Span2 on the weekends, features interviews with authors as well as author appearances and more. According to the Book TV website, they feature nonfiction authors, but from time to time a fiction author will slip through, as Pete Dexter did when Book TV recorded an author panel at BookExpo America, on which Mr. Dexter spoke last (perhaps because no authors, wisely, wanted to follow him).

A diminutive man in his 60s with expressive, wily eyes that he frequently widens to often comic effect, Dexter opened by thanking the booksellers (at the request of his publicist), bemoaned his booksales, and off-handedly suggested two alternative marketing plans for his upcoming book, Spooner. One involves substituting Spooner for the Bible in hotel rooms and for swearing-ins ("You could put Spooner in there and nobody'd know," he pleaded. "I'd be so happy.") Plan two involves replacing the book jackets of Spooner with the book jackets of a certain blockbuster author whose book is coming out the same month.

I'll refrain from describing his appearance in too much more detail. You can watch it here, and his self-deprecating, offhand comic timing is difficult to replicate on the page. I'll just say that I loved his unfiltered, uncensored appearance, and his alternative, digressive method of describing his book, Spooner: "I can't tell you what a novel's about . . . but I thought I could tell you some of the things in it. Alphabetically. ("We have two asthmatics. One of which is the protagonist's mother, and the other is a bulldog, and they're violently allergic to each other and they meet at a party in South Dakota at a meeting of the Great Books Club and kill each other. We have two burials at sea that don't go well. . . ." )

The host of the author panel, Joe Scarborough, put it well when he said of Dexter's appearance:
"What the h*** did I just see?!"

Book TV is a great way to introduce yourself to new authors. If you don't have cable tv, you can watch many of the broadcasts online at www.booktv.org. You can also watch excerpts on Book TV's YouTube page.

To learn more about Pete Dexter, who received the National Book Award in 1988 for the novel Paris Trout, an excellent source is the library's Contemporary Authors database, which you can access from our Research Databases page.

Dexter's latest novel, Spooner, due out on September 24th, is characterized by author Susanna Moore as: "a novel of picaresque vitality--outlandish, anecdotal, profuse, funny, profound."

Other novels by Pete Dexter include:

The Paperboy
Paris Trout
God's Pocket

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What is a Whydah?

The shadows of summer are getting long as we are nearing the end of construction season, and while the weather is still warm and the daylight hours are still in abundance, I always like to utilize this time of year to visit museums. This year, there are a few places on my to-do list.

First and foremost is the Field Museum, to see the Pirate exhibit. The centerpiece of this exhibit is the Whydah, the ship used by the pirate "Black" Sam Bellamy. The Whydah sank in a huge storm off of Cape Cod in 1717, and legends came to life speaking of the massive amounts of treasure (not to mention almost all of the crew) that went down with the ship. But due to the diligence of underwater recovery expert Barry Clifford, the remains of the Whydah have recently been discovered and excavated, finally providing historical truth to almost 400 years of legend about "Black" Bellamy and his ill-fated voyage. What they have found is on display at this exhibit - I'm a real sucker for shipwreck exhibits (not to mention pirate ones)!

The next item on the list is the is the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, located in Evanston, IL. I have long been fascinated by the cultures native to this land, and this institution "focuses exclusively on the history, culture and arts of the North American native people", to quote their website. They not only have exhibits featuring tobacco pipes and the sacred role they played in native cultures or a collection of cradleboards from different cultures throughout North America, but also of artwork submitted by modern-day artists of Native American heritage. The clash of traditional heritage and pop art casts a fresh perspective on Native American cultures.

Art also brings us to my third planned destination: The Art Institute of Chicago, specifically the Modern Wing. This 264,000 square foot new addition just opened in May 2009, houses the artwork of the 20th and 21st century, and makes the Art Institute "the second largest art museum in the United States" (according to the website). In fact, the Des Plaines Public Library is hosting a trip to the Modern Wing in late September, the 26th to be exact. Art historian Jeff Mishur will provide commentary on the way down to the museum in coach transportation, as well as a guided tour of the Modern Wing. Transportation, commentary, a guided tour, and admission to the Modern Wing as well as general museum admission are all included for a cost of $65 per person. Tickets to this excursion can be obtained at the Customer Service desk on the first floor of our library.

Now, let's go see if we can get some Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh! (this joke is courtesy of my father). Which museums have you gone to or still plan to visit this summer (or ever)?

Friday, August 14, 2009

What's Your Motto?

A motto is a short saying which expresses a rule of conduct or philosophy of life. My favorite motto is New Hampshire's Live Free or Die. What it loses in length, it makes up for in clarity.

Last year, I found myself pondering what motto would be appropriate for our Readers' Services department. Right in the midst of my ponder, a line from Flight of the Conchords broke through:

In some areas, yes. In other areas, also yes.

I knew I had found my motto.

As the months go by, other mottoes have been honored with the prestigious Readers' Services Motto of the Season Award. For the summer, Mrs. Johnson contributed:

Readers' Services: Advising with Wild Abandon

For the Autumn Motto, I swiped something from a Mary Schmich column in the Chicago Tribune and customized it:

Readers' Services: We are entirely totally down with that.

Which got me pondering again. If we had to have personal mottoes, what would I choose? How about

Honor the Goofy

What would your motto be?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Power of Linda Knorr

Don't worry, she uses her powers for GOOD. Linda works in Reader's Services - I bet you've talked to her. I recently came to her with a whiny request: "I want an author I haven't read, not too fluffy, with an interesting setting"? She pulled three different books, gave me a minute or two on each title, and sent me off.

I now have a new favorite literary sentence. Bear with me: it's long.

"Ten crates unloading, nine boxes opened, eight phones ringing, seven staff complaining, six desks in various states of assembly, five damaged chairs, four cases pending, three workmen hammering, two computers crashing and a cat locked in a filing cabinet with no key."

Aren't you curious about the book that sentence comes from? It's The Water Room by Christopher Fowler. Back in December I promised you that we would all find an author we adored in 2009, and Christopher Fowler is my discovery. Or rather, thanks to Linda's suggestion, I'm working my way through the Bryant and May mysteries one by one. Usually I start anywhere in the series, but this time I put Ten-Second Staircase down after 30 pages, knowing that I had to start this sequence from the very beginning (Full Dark House). Do you see what the Readers' Services staff can do for someone who asks "impossible" questions?

This is not the first time that Linda has helped me discover an author: Christopher Buckley and C. J. Box and Jasper Fforde all leap to mind. And it's not necessarily that I love what she loves, or I'd be up to my elbows in cozy mysteries. No, it's that she listens to our hapless requests and then distills her suggestions into a few come hither phrases. That's the essence of Readers' Advisory.

And that's why I see patrons carrying around one of Linda's Foreword columns (she's so wrapped up in a scarf you may not recognize her), or her lists of Holiday Mysteries (available at the Readers' Services Desk), or chatting to her about Midsomer Murders and what they might watch next. They trust her. I'm sure she isn't always right: I never did open The Last Pope. But then, I've been too busy reading dialogue like, "You've been present at three violent deaths in a week. Have you thought of going in for one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?"

Linda opened the door, if you will, for me to have that experience. "Thanks" doesn't seem quite enough. What has she recommended to you?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Golden Voices

Ever marvel at the uniqueness of voice? How at the simple utterance of a hello, you know who it is. High, low, squeaky, smooth, young, old. Some audiobook narrators though can't be pegged. These folks are unique for their versatility. At least the good ones.

For finding the good ones, and the perfect audiobook, you must visit this online magazine site, Audiofile. Everything you want to know about audiobooks is there. Descriptions galore but the most special section is the Golden Voices page.

Golden voices highlights narrators that are particulary talented and particulary prolific. I recently listened to The White Tiger mainly because the narrator John Lee was profiled on the site. He captured the Indian accent and the narration of a story in letter form with finesse. He has narrated books by Charles Dickens, John LeCarre, Ruth Rendell and Orhan Pamuk. Versatile to say the least.

From the Golden Voices section dig deeper and read about the profession and what it takes to become a reader. Fun and interesting.

If this isn't the best audiobook resource on the web, please let me know.