Resuming popular v. literary debate, in brief

Oh, stuff and rot. Got much busier than I'd anticipated and look how much I've left hanging, just over the past week or so. It's not like I have a life outside the blog or anything. Still, I feel such shame. Worse, looking back over recent posts I see the distinct lack of self-editing and feel the urge to scream, "I can write better than this, really!" Not that anyone else would particularly care but I do, and it upsets me knowing I let all these posts slide without even the pretence of editing.

Anyway. Water under the bridge, a readership off doing things normal people do in summer and belated editing: three of my best friends.


The Great Literary vs. Popular Debate

There was the discussion of POPULAR books a week or so ago, as well as genre vs. literary fiction. Turns out I wasn't able to complete one dratted book for that librarian gathering but I don't think all was for nought. At the meeting, a short – but civil – mini discussion broke out:

What's "literary" fiction and does it say anything about a person who reads solely genre novels, specifically (in this case) gentle reads, with nothing upsetting, no nasty characters or situations? Or does it say anything at all?

Things like this do matter to librarians. Quite a lot, because the vast majority of the reading public – our patronage – read popular books. Not always genre per se but popular.We're in the business of connecting readers and books. It's kind of like a bookstore, only you don't actually have to pay for materials you bring home. Innovative, I'd say. Should catch on like wildfire, eh?

Pause, while my masters degree gently weeps.

So, what makes a book popular? The bestseller lists, mostly. Buzz from TV, online news sources, occasionally NEWSPAPERS. Remember those? Made from real paper, typed with ink, got your fingers a bit messy? And they went great with coffee.

That baying noise you hear? That's my masters degree sobbing.

Popular authors develop a loyal following, so when they publish something new people clamor to get it, which is why libraries buy so many copies of these books – so our patrons don't have to wait as long. It's also why there's less money left over to buy literary fiction and other materials. But let's leave that for a future post, lest my bachelors AND masters degrees throw themselves into the shredder.

Savvy popular authors publish series novels, hooking readers by creating identifiable characters with quirks, endearing or otherwise memorable personality traits. Maybe they set their novels in a particular place, or otherwise feature some sort of uniformity unique to that particular series.

Those are the popular authors. But what of the others, those writing rich, luxurious prose we English majors want to roll in like All-Star Wrestlers in baby oil? Now, there you have your division and it's a clear one. From here the topic gets heavy and I get very, very opinionated, so I'll put that off for a later time, naturally.

While it is a part of my job to connect all readers with books they enjoy reading, personally I do not believe it's better to read just anything than nothing at all. A diet of solely crap reading does litle to improve the mind. A diet of quality literature, on the other hand, builds new neural pathways expanding the mind, adding to overall intellect. And it's a whole hell of a lot more enjoyable.

I know, I hear people saying they read for escape from real life, that or read the crap to take a break from more literate reading. Like a diet for your body, so is a diet for your mind. The occasional chocolate ice cream or cake or whatever is your weakness is a mere blip. In the long-term it means nothing, as long as your general diet is good. And, in this case, good means quality writing.

But the whole point of the former post I'm reprising was I'm not familiar enough with the popular books library patrons read. I want to remedy that, while not wasting my time on worrying about it all. The top in each genre is my goal. That's the best quality writing from the genres making up 90%, the less palatable the remaining 10 %. It is my compromise, on behalf of my profession.

Now, speaking of my profession, I must fly to a morning meeting. I feel better having caught up at least this much, on a subject left hanging. But I'm off to brave the 100F heat, poor me! Time to put on my librarian hat and skeedaddle.



Sunday Salon: June 24, 2012. Wot a week, wot a week.


What am I saying… they're all like this. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result, yet you still do the same things over and over. Getting the same result.


In my case, this translates to: I have the best of intentions to do something, become overwhelmed, then crawl into a corner and whimper because nothing ever gets done. I come out of the corner, eventually, to find the cat has relieved himself of urine on top of the still relatively new sofa, go back into the corner and sob until I've thoroughly emptied myself of water.

And I have no idea why nothing gets done!

So you know, I DID start Ulysses (SEE: Project 2012, Ulysses) though I was traveling over the weekend of Bloomsday and wound up starting a day late. I KNOW. For this I deserve a scolding and rap across the knuckles with a ruler but the good old days of scowling nuns are behind me, more's the pity.

Speaking of, Sister Jeanne, @!$%*@!!.

I started the book in the train station in Memphis, of all places, about as removed from Dublin as you can get. I made it through the first section, now I need to visit Frank Delaney's wonderful instructive video tutorial on this section, so he can tell me what I read.

No, really, a few pages made sense, at least to my mind, which regularly jumps around like a monkey in heat, much like Joyce's style. Stephen Dedalus was talking to Buck Mulligan and some Haines person, in the home they share. Mulligan right away shows us what a prick he is, for telling Stephen he caused his own mother's death by refusing to kneel beside her bed and pray for her as she was dying, Stephen leaves their abode justifiably pissed off. Then a bunch of other stuff happens.

Try using that on your exams, literature majors.

In other reading, my interlibrary loan of Kate Summerscale's Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of  Victorian Lady arrived and I started reading that Friday night, when I was gifted with insomnia until 5:00 a.m., fell asleep sitting up and nearly missed my Saturday morning doctor appointment, which was at 10:00.



Speaking of a monkey in heat, Mrs. Robinson (this is a true story,  mind) was. Very Madame Bovary so far but in Mrs. R's case she kept a diary of her sadness and attempted exploits, which eventually damns her. Duh. Silly, stupid woman! Didn't she know she was supposed to suffer in silence, like a good little Angel of the House, sneak around but shut the hell up about it?


Wot else? Oh, I read some here and there but nothing much to speak of, since I spent so much time alternating corners in which to cringe and weep. Still haven't completely unpacked from the Booktopia trip last weekend but I did manage to do something that has needed doing for months: I cleaned out the back of our van!! Calloo! Callay!

My children call our van the "bookmobile" and avoid it like the plague. Actually sitting in it involves the sweeping of books, magazines and various papers off the seats, the general atmosphere rendered toxic by the surplus of papers, pens and the occasional granola bar (In the wrapper!) that's been stepped on five times but which may come in handy should I find myself stranded some day and flat granola bars retain their nutritional value, thankyouverymuch.

When I make a turn – or stops suddenly – something's bound to fly through the air, with the potential to knock an unlucky soul unconscious. But no more! Half the crap has now officially been donated to Goodwill, the other half brought into the house in laundry baskets, now sitting in the entrance to the living room we never use anyway – well, save at Christmas – where it will reside until the time comes I'm unstuck from my usual ways again and repeat the process of separating wheat from chaff.

There was physical therapy for my piriformis syndrome issue, as well, and I am happy to report I'm finally seeing some improvement, cross fingers. Weather hotter than hell (giving me the opportunity to acclimate) and there's been no rain in forever, so the grass is turning that yellow/brown color I despise. Oh, and Forbes came out with an article listing Library and Information Science the absolute most useless master's degree!

We're number one! We're number one!

Shoot me.

I'll end here, while I can still refrain from crawling into a corner, and wish you all a lovely remainder of your weekend, depending on your time zone and I promise to vomit forth more eclectic and thoughtful prose in the very near future.



In Which Lisa Throws Around Names

My librarian pal and co-worker, Virginia, and I have been working on a National Library Week celebration event for the past several months. Actually, the date falls outside the official week proper but libraries deserve more than a one-week celebration, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Putting together library programs is a big part of my job and PR is a big part of Virginia’s. Between the two of us we do our best to keep the gears and widgets running smoothly. In fact, the job’s so big the library may be considering adding a third person to our ranks, expanding our adult programming and events even further, as part of our bid to keep our library relevant in the times ahead. Because things are changing and I do mean quickly.

Thursday evening’s event is sponsored by our Friends of the Library group, to whom we owe so, so much. They contributed money to my tuition costs, while I was studying for my Master’s at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Several others have received stipends as well, to help fund higher education. We’ve purchased furniture and various other collections through their generosity. They’re a big part of the reason we’re able to bring this year’s authors to our area, and why we’re already looking forward to another, equally big event next year. If your library has a Friends group take them bagels and coffee one day and thank them. If it doesn’t, what are you waiting for! Get it together, people!


For my part, I booked writers Elizabeth Berg and Betsy Woodman, for a two-fer author extravaganza. Actually, I should say I booked Elizabeth, and Elizabeth knows and would like to promote Betsy, so there you have it. We were thrilled. And Bob’s your uncle.

Meanwhile, Virginia ran about like mad (I mean that literally) (not the mad part) pulling together venue details, and working with our multi-talented graphic artist to give it the splash it needed to get attention. The three of us are now attached at the brain, that’s how much effort this has taken. And it’s Virginia who’s been behind the bulk of it, to give credit where it’s due. And our graphic artist, Deb! Oh, how sophisticated the event will be.

May I also just say, Elizabeth Berg’s willingness to work with libraries, institutions of much culture but small finances, is stellar. She’s also willing to use her fame to help other writers along, as clearly illustrated in our case.

In short: she’s a wonderful, wonderful human being.


ElizabethbergElizabeth Berg, Wonderful Human Being


Elizabeth’s bringing author Betsy Woodman this Thursday evening, to our event at the Golf Club of Illinois here in Algonquin. Betsy’s first novel, Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes, will be published this July. It’s along the lines of an Alexander McCall Smith novel, so if you’ve enjoyed him you’ll likely want to check her out.


Betsy Woodman, Soon to Be Your Favorite Author

This amazing woman lived in India for ten years. She’s also studied in France, Zambia and the United States. From MacMillan’s author page:


“She has contributed nonfiction pieces and several hundred book reviews to various publications, and was a writer and editor for the award-winning documentary series Experiencing War, produced for the Library of Congress and aired on Public Radio International.”

Do credentials even get better than this?



Meet Jana Bibi, a Scottish woman helping to save the small town in India she has grown to call home and the oddball characters she considers family

Janet Laird’s life changed the day she inherited her grandfather’s house in a faraway Indian hill station. Ignoring her son’s arguments to come grow old in their family castle in Scotland, she moves with her chatty parrot, Mr. Ganguly and her loyal housekeeper, Mary, to Hamara Nagar, where local merchants are philosophers, the chief of police is a tyrant, and a bagpipe-playing Gurkha keeps the wild monkeys at bay. Settling in, Jana Bibi (as she comes to be known) meets her colorful local neighbors—Feroze Ali Khan of Royal Tailors, who struggles with his business and family, V.K. Ramachandran, whose Treasure Emporium is bursting at the seams with objects of unknown provenance, and Rambir, editor of the local newspaper, who burns the midnight oil at his printing press. When word gets out that the town is in danger of being drowned by a government dam, Jana is enlisted to help put it on the map. Hoping to attract tourists with promises of good things to come, she stacks her deck of cards, readies her fine-feathered assistant—and Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes is born.


This Thursday evening will be a huge shindig for us, out in the suburban boonies. Shocking the community with literary talent this big seems to have overcome any feelings of apathy I’ve had to face prior. I’m already kicking names around for next year. That’s how successful this event’s proving to be. Need I say how joyous that is?

Full post on Thursday’s event to come…

Books vs. eBooks, Libraries vs. Publishers

Weirdly enough, I don't often post here as a librarian. Or, I should say, about being a librarian, specifically. But lately there's a continually rising trend so disturbing I can't keep mum about it any longer.  Namely, libraries are – or are planning to start – getting rid of physical books in favor of digital/eBooks. Re-design plans for library space have either been set in motion or are under discussion. "New" library floorplans strip book collections down to the bestsellers, the books most checked out. Older, less obviously popular books will be escorted to the door, their mylar covers ripped off and security tags removed.

You may say, "Big deal. These books aren't getting checked out often anyway, plus the space could be better used housing tech labs, private rooms for meetings or study or teleconferencing – things people actually use."

If you're bloodless, unappreciative of things like serendipitous discovery of new books and authors, topics and the free exchange of ideas, good for you. Your ignorance precedes you and isn't likely to go away, thanks to your closed-minded logic. But if, for the rest of us, the very thought of the "libri" root of the word library still evokes actual books you can hold in your hands, flip through and enjoy the heft of actual papers glued between two covers, this is positively chilling.

Ironically, now libraries willing and in the process of chucking print books are running into a bit of a hitch. Namely, it's finally dawning on publishers they're becoming the only game in town, the one source of the very digital books libraries need. And, sure, they were the suppliers for paper and glue books, too. But those cost a lot more money to produce, store and ship than their digital counterparts. Digital books, they're realizing, are a true cash cow. And who needs eBooks in order to provide books to their patrons? Why, the same libraries heaving print books out the door. The same who need to provide newly electronically-enlightened patrons with copies of digital books they assume will, or have, supplanted the old fashioned book book.

So publishers are raising their prices for eBooks, tightening up their licenses in order to continue making money – not such an odd thing for a business. Prices are raising not 10 or 20%, or even 50%. Try numbers like 300 % over the prices they were just a couple weeks ago – at least in the case of mega-giant Random House.

Publishers like Penguin are refusing to sell eBooks to libraries at all, figuring they're missing out on a hefty profit when these books are checked out over and over, never wearing out, never needing to be replaced. Because, for the foreseeable future, digital is forever. Some are in negotiations with libraries to charge per however many checkouts they deem normal for an equivalent paper book, estimating how long book books last before needing to be replaced. And libraries are horrified, justifiably or not.

There's a lot that's up in the air but who'll be suffering most? Ah, that's right. The readers. The public, the students, the whomever is queueing up to make use of these books. And their patience won't last long. The first time they go to check out a new book and hear, "Umm… We don't have that in electronic form because the publisher is charging too much money for it and we won't buy from them" I don't think they'll find it in their hearts to feel too badly for the library itself. Rather, I think they'll scream their heads off, holding onto their Nooks, Amazon Kindles, Sony eReaders and whatever else is coming down the pike.

Library patrons are keeping libraries in business. They're paying property taxes which pay for books, maintenance, little things like librarian's salaries. And, in exchange, they expect service, an institution that meets their needs. When libraries are at war with publishers patrons don't care. They expect one or both to suck it up, get over it and provide the services and materials they need.

When books are swallowed up by digital books, libraries have become computer labs instead of storehouses of information and the world has rolled over in response to the pressure of staying on the cutting edge of technology, where will humans be? At what other time in history has so much change been forced upon people in such a short time? And, where will the non-technical people be? Left in the dust, I guess.

Luddite I am not, proof positive being my presence here, my possession of an iPhone and a Kindle Fire. But I'm also a bibliophile. My house is bulging at the seams with books numbered in the thousands: the old-fashioned sort made of paper. What I am is concerned and one of the things bothering me most is the possibility the world outside the library profession doesn't realize all that's going on right now, all the turmoil, certainly, but the threat to paper books as well. Or, the threat to paper books especially.

I hope you'll take what I'm saying here and turn it into library activism, on whatever scale you can. Maybe things where you are haven't – and even won't, for a long time or forever – changed but for those of us in major metropolitan areas things are changed already. Libraries are jumping on the bandwagon to be ahead of the curve. Some have renovated already, taking out the books, modelling themselves after the now-defunct Borders, putting coffee bars where books used to be.

All well and good but there's more at stake. The battle between publishers and libraries is joined and getting more bloody by the minute. Being a librarian, I'm trying to straddle the line, eager to provide eBooks to those who want them but also stubbornly against sacrificing books to do so. I'm one of those who walks in the library stacks, one finger on book spines like a child running a stick along a picket fence. When a title, or an image strikes my fancy I love pulling it off the shelf, reading the dustjacket blurb and considering if it would suit me or not. If those books are no longer there I'll never stumble on them. I'll never experience the excitement of finding a new-to-me author not recommended by Amazon, because someone else who bought a certain book also bought this one. And while I can page through lists of eBooks, neatly organized in alphabetical order, that grows tedious awfully quickly.

While understanding the upsurge in providing eBooks, I also think all this is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Libraries are turning from books (who'd ever believe that would happen?) so as not to seem old-fashioned, and now publishers and libraries are at each other's throats. Those without e-readers are being shoved out into the cold and books more than a few years old are either going to used book sales or being pulped. It's a mess, quite frankly. One I'm expected to stay on top of, to keep abreast of what's new and generally support the library and its new mission.

Between you and me, I wish I'd been born much earlier, even long enough ago I'd be turned to dust by now. Because I'd rather not have lived to see all that's happening. Words can't describe how much I hate what's being lost. Call me old fashioned, or backward, or whatever you'd like. Honestly, I don't care. What I dread is the day I have a grandchild who grows up without need of a bookcase, because all s/he needs is a pouch to hold an e-reader.

The scary thing is, this may not be far off the mark. And I still don't want to be here to see it.


For more:


For Librarians:


The Sunday Salon: January 8, 2012


One whole week into 2012 and as far as I know I haven't broken a single resolution but then again that's not saying much as I can't recall what I resolved.

Oh, wait! I think one was something about my knees and taking positive action to improve my pain situation. If working out qualifies then I am ahead of that game. I did go, once. I was on the elliptical trainer for half an hour. With every step, ellip, or what have you, I felt a disgusting feeling of pain. It wasn't a sharp pain but did involve the sound of bone grinding on bone, with a pinch of loose cartilage or other organic matter being pulverized, accompanied by localized swelling.

For several days after I felt a distinct change in the status of my knees. Along with the stiffness and pain was added a general weakness in the joint, resulting in my knees giving way suddenly, and with no notice, the cheeky things. I guess you could say so far my resolutions are going gangbusters in 2012.




Basically, still reading all I was reading before:

Bleak House by Dickens (over halfway)

Striving hard to finish before the group discussion and I'm between half and three-quarters with a medium to pathetic chance of finishing on time. Still reading primarily from bedtime until I'm too tired to read further, which is usually a good hour or two. I've passed the rough patch in which I wasn't sure what was going on with a vague plotline and have passed through the much more fun and upbeat scene of Caddy's wedding to Prince Turveydrop. The deportment, I assure you, was impeccable.


A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (ditto)

Reading this slowly to savor.


A Magnificient Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed The British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport

Nearly finished and will write the review today. It continues to be an exceptional work of history. Fascinating stuff.




Restoring Grace by Katie Fforde

Reading for Readers Advisory Interest Group – a professional library group dedicated to reading a variety of genre literature, and next up is "Modern Romance." When I first heard this was the upcoming genre selection I felt my heart sink. I can read fantasy, thrillers, science fiction, graphic novels, etc., but I'd rather have the dry heaves than read romance.

So, I selected by going for something with subject matter I have interest in: old manor houses, British settings and characters, an artist, and a divorced woman being wooed, reluctantly, by an Irishman. Throw some flowers on that ancient, drafty house and my interest is piqued well enough.

I'm around a quarter through and, aside from the short-cut telling instead of showing parts and occasional clunky dialogue, it's honestly not that bad. I don't believe in romance, at least not the storybook sort, which I guess makes me a good test subject. If I think it's a fairly good read you know most readers of romance – minus the bodice-rippers, and you people can just forget it – set in modern Britain will have a good shot at liking it. At the least it proves I'm a fairly good sport.


Essays by Truman Capote

One by one I'm getting through a fairly chunky collection of Capote's essays at a snail's pace, which is intentional since it's a great way to dip into intelligent writing when I have a few minutes here and there. I'm a fan of his fiction – what little I've read – plus he was a southerner. Slam dunk. Will have more to say about some of the individual pieces in a future post. Hint: Mixed reaction.


Have to go switch the laundry, so that's it for today.

Ciao, y'all.

This is the end…

Introduction, of a General Nature:

Time to start gathering 2011 into a big ball to tie a ribbon around it, considering tomorrow's le fin de la fin. Often I'm keen to start picking up the stray bits before it's reached this date, so I guess that means 2011 could have been worse. That comes as close as I ever get to saying something positive. You may want (first typed "wank")  to bookmark this post as proof I am not 100% glass half-empty.

As a general comment, looking back through Bluestalking from 2011 I'm more than a little disappointed with the quality of many of my posts this year. I'm also irritated by how much I've jumped around getting off-track more than I should.

So… Resolution #1: 2012 will see a separation of blog content.


Pointingfinger   My book reviewing and interviewing will remain here at Bluestalking.

Pointingfinger    Off-topic rambling concerning myself and other endeavors – some of them also literary-     related, but not reviewing per se, including my participation in World Book Day, etc. – will                be found here.

Pointingfinger    Photography, my painting and multi-media work as well as anything related to matters     artistic will be here.


Life, as it was, in 2011:

2011 began with the culmination of a series of shots under my left knee cap, injections I elected to try in hopes they would alleviate ongoing, unendurable pain. As a bonus, what started as a left knee phenomenon spread to the other after I tore the meniscus tendon in that knee, as well. Ironically, it gave up the ghost a few weeks into my very active exercise routine, fueled by the hope I could build up enough leg muscle to avoid that very eventuality. I walked miles and worked out at the gym for hours, with the result of a ripped tendon, the absence of its protection resulting in my right knee quickly became inflamed. Then I had two knees exhibiting excrutiating arthritis I'm far too young to have. Too young by fifteen or twenty years. But it's genetic, my older brother (by six years) is battling it as well, though only in one knee. Eventually I'd have succumbed. But so soon?

Resolution # 2: Actively search out viable solutions to minimize and work around the pain, don't curl up and succumb like a big, whinging baby.


Rays of Light:

For the positive of the year, I've already expressed how wondrous were matters reading and literary event-related. The books I read were nothing short of miraculous but even that may be slightly eclipsed by the memories of authors met. One day, when I'm old and grey – oldER and greyEr, that is – it will finally hit me I really did meet these people, talk to them, hear them speak and learn more about what makes each such a wonder of humanity.

Their genius is humbling, if also a bit depressing if I'm totally honest, since it reaffirms I would need ten lifetimes to begin to approach that level of creative ability – which is why I read, review, blog and love from afar while they produce works of enduring beauty. I'm the thwarted Romeo to their Juliet but I love them no less for it.


Authors met in 2011:

Ian Rankin

Sebastian Barry    (Have I mentioned that?)

Michael Cunningham

Goldie Goldbloom

Elizabeth Berg

Chris Bohjalian

Bill Br yson

Rebecca Skloot

Resolution # 3: Carry on meeting, greeting, reading and adoring amazing writers.


The New Library World Order:

You won't like hearing this any better than I like telling you but libraries, within roughly the next decade, will no longer resemble what you've become accustomed to. I know this because I've been reading about "advances" other libraries are making and/or planning in order to fulfill a whole new function in society. I also know the same is in store for my own library. The planning has already begun.

Roughly 50% or more of print books will be going away, the space they occupied devoted to classrooms for instructing the public on how to use up and coming technology. Other space will become private meeting or similar technology-related areas.

That is, libraries which aren't to be shuttered will be transformed. I should qualify that. As a profession, I don't think it's too soon to say librarians will gradually cease to be. And, you may recall, I received my Master's a mere two years ago.

Enough said.

Resolution # 4: Change, adapt, accept. Or scream, break things and swear. It's a toss up.


A Few 2011 Highlights:

Hollywood and Harry Potter

A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates

NBCC winners

Acadiana: … by Carl Brasseaux

I predicted the Orange Prize Winner!

Stones for My Father by Trilby Kent

Netsuke by Rikki Ducornet

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch

The Filter Bubble by Eli Paliser

Salem Press declared Bluestalking one of the better General Interest Library Blogs for the second year in a row

Bluestalking turns five

Fourth of July – Lisle Hot Air Balloon Fest

Goodbye, Borders

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam and I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck and Sebastian Barry

Julian Barnes, the Man Bookers, Alan Hollinghurst. And Sebastian Barry.

Errm… Sebastian Barry

A photographic romp

Julian Barnes! and gratuitous mention of Sebastian Barry

Bit more Sebastian Barry

Dean Faulkner Wells



Partly new start, partly continuation of the status quo. In my next post I'll talk a bit about what's ahead for me, so many exciting details you may want to make sure you're sitting down. A small cocktail wouldn't be out of order.

In the meantime, celebrate the New Year well and safely. As for NY Day, the Scots believe you should do, on the first day of the year, a few things important to you, that you'd like to do much more of the rest of the year. And yes, that sounds a bit awkward but in my case I'll read a little, write a little and create – whether painting, photography or whatever – and be back here to post on the year ahead.

Wishing you all much health and happiness in 2011. And thank you, so much, for reading.


To make a long story even longer…

Such a long time since I've had the luxury to sit down and just chat. I miss that. So much going on here I barely know what day it is. And I'm exhausted. I'm not sure if it's age, unaccustomed activity or what but I feel like I was hit by a truck after all the activity this week. Don't get me wrong, it was all fun stuff. At least there's that.

One bad thing about resurfacing is finding autumn's passing quickly and I've hardly had time to appreciate it very much. It isn't spectacular around here, though. Not sure why. We don't seem to have enough of the brilliantly-colored trees for that WOW factor. Some spots are nice. Driving from here to Dundee – the locals will know – is always pretty impressive. There's one area, where town turns into farmland, where the trees arch over the road, making a glowing, golden tunnel. It's pure magic. I haven't been that way lately to know if that's already done. Maybe I'll check that out this weekend but I'm afraid I won't like the answer.

Within the family circle, the biggest thing going is my daughter is applying to, and hearing back from, colleges. She's gotten a couple acceptances but so far not from her top choice schools. There's not really been enough turnaround time yet, though. I'm shocked any of them have had the chance to already say yes. But it's a good sign none have declined. Kid's brainy, though, on both left and right sides. She lucked out, getting her dad's math abilities and her mum's literature genes. I think she'll do okay.

Do you want to hear a quick run-down of the past couple weeks in literary events?



First, my review of Colson Whitehead's Zone One is up at This was a real out of my comfort zone (no pun intended) novel. Post-Apocalyptic zombie fiction isn't something I'd normally go for but I snapped this one up with Whitehead's name attached. I hadn't read any of his novels. I needed to remedy that and now that I have read his stuff I only want to read more. I picked up his Sag Harbor. And I'll read that when…?

Hold onto that idea. It'll resurface here before too much time has passed.

I believe I mentioned seeing/talking briefly with Sebastian Barry, when he was in the Chicago area for his On Canaan's Side book tour. He was so, so kind, so patient with this insane avid fan. For each I wrote a different inscription request on a Post It note. He didn't humor all my requests, but was gentleman enough to scribble out a couple custom inscriptions.

On Canaan's Side


Translation from the original Sanskrit:

To my muse, my inspiration.

With profound affection,

Sebastian Barry



A Long, Long Way



There are not words enough to express

my gratitude.

Yours, gratefully,

Sebastian Barry


The Secret Scripture



Now you're starting to creep me out.

Please leave before I call security.

Love, until the sun ceases to shine,

Sebastian Barry

Then there was Chris Bohjalian. From his signing I learned, among other things, when one is told to "brace for impact" in a plane crash it's necessary to keep both feet on the floor, lest you break both your legs from the force of hitting the ground, slightly inhibiting your chances of getting out alive. He didn't learn this from real life experience, thank goodness. It was from research for his current book The Night Strangers.


And, Midwives



Tuesday of this week found me at the Illinois Library Association Conference 2011 Author Dinner. Seems like forever ago I booked Goldie Goldbloom and Elizabeth Berg on behalf of our library. And they were stellar choices, if I do say so myself.

And I do.


ILA set up author tables for each library's author attendees. A local indie bookseller sold copies of the books. Signees then had to roam for signatures.

Pretty swag event, no? A real class act. The Intercontinental O'Hare was magnificent. Just magnificent. The art alone was impressive. Here's my personal favorite piece, an artist's rendition of the interconnectedness of all points on earth:

Pretty cool, no?

And speaking of pretty cool:


Authors Elizabeth Berg and Goldie Goldbloom, plus our library Director and incoming ILA President Lynn Elam.

But that's not all:

Who might that man be, gazing over his glasses?

Honey, he not only might be, he is Michael Cunningham.

And he's a wonderful, down to earth, kind man. Pulitzer Prize? What Pulitzer Prize!

He's just a really nice guy. Who happens to have a brilliant mind.

Okay. He's not just anything but incredible.


Thank you to:

Lynn Elam and the Algonquin Area Public Library District for making me a part of ILA 2011

Goldie Goldbloom and Elizabeth Berg for honoring us with their attendance

after-words Indie bookshop for providing all the books

And Michael Cunningham, for being Michael Cunningham



What a couple of weeks.


My new book review policy.

My new review policy is up on my "My Review Policy" page.  Take a look if it's of interest. Ignore if it's not. Quite a change from how it used to be. I'll explain why in subsequent posts and slowly turn this ship around in a slightly different direction.

Worry not, I'll still include some book talk. It'll just be a bit different.


Lisa’s Grand Banned Books Giveaway

The good thing about writing your own blog is you have sole creative (shut it) control and answer to no one. The bad thing is when life intervenes there's no one to point at and say, "YOU TAKE OVER FOR A WHILE!"

And of course this would have to happen during BANNED BOOKS WEEK, when I'd hoped to do so much.


So here's what I'm gonna did. I'm trying to get a few things accomplished today, of the around the house variety, so there's not much room for bloggery. However, since it is BANNED BOOKS WEEK I am going to work up three PRIZE PACKAGES, photograph them, and hope, HOPE to post those tomorrow.

Each package will consist of one of these t-shirts (Eat Sleep Read, the sale of which benefits the Illinois Library Association):




…and a small pile of books. Because what would a PRIZE PACKAGE mean without books?

You may enter to win one or all three packages but you can only win ONCE.


This is my humble contribution to the BANNED BOOKS WEEK observation. I had hoped to do more, but well, you know… I didn't.

'til tomorrow…



The Sunday Salon – August 20, 2011 , or:

I'm warning you; it's long (That's what she said.)



Good morning, my lovelies! Err… Afternoon, actually.



Route 66 Museum

Here's a photo from our 2011 summer vacation, for no other reason than I haven't posted a whole lot of pictures yet. Time is the culprit. Time is my nemesis. Also, the wasting of time I could be doing something useful, due to my addiction to Angry Birds and Zombie Farmer.

I am such an iPhone whore. There's no time of day or night I'm unwilling to answer its call. The other night Zombie Farmers beeped at 1:00 a.m. to tell me one of my crops was ready to harvest. Did I turn it off and ignore it? What do you think?

But I needed tomatoes!

Know what I'm thinking? When our family plan phone contract is up next summer I may not get another iPhone. I know! Crazy, right? But I don't like this feeling of being chained to my phone, Googling every little thing I wonder about, like: who was that one actor in that one film, the one with the barking dogs? Google it! Who wrote that book I've been wanting to buy? Amazon! Buy it!

This cannot continue. All this tempting technology is teaching me the evils inherent with constant instant gratification, encouraging my ADD via dangling temptations in my face. Do I really need this? Come to think of it, does anyone?

Know how many books I have on my iPhone Kindle app? I don't want to know, so I'm not going to check and tell you. But trust me, it's obscene. I download a lot of free first chapters, to the tune of maybe 50  or so to date. Yesterday I accidentally bought a book instead of downloading the free chapter. Oopsies. Nine dollars worth of oopsies. Plus, it wasn't even one I thought I would wind up buying.

This confession is my segue back into books, the intention of the Sunday Salon. Smooth, no?

I know. No.

We're already familiar with the fact I've been reading through as many books on the Booker Longlist as possible before the September 6 Shortlist announcement (because I am insane impatient and cannot just wait for the shortlist and read those books).

So far I've completed:

Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side

Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending

I'm roughly halfway through Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child and bored senseless (apologies to Emma Straub!)

I've started Patrick DeWitt's uproariously funny The Sisters Brothers, and next up plan to read Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie.

The thinking behind my choices was I needed to read the biggies (Barry, Barnes and Hollinghurst), regardless of what it took to get them, including spending the money to have them shipped here from Next, I'm reading the books available here in the colonies.

Once the Shortlist comes out I will compare my guess educated opinion re: which of the biggies should have, and did, make it through, as well as thoughts on which of the other, lesser known survived. At that point (bear with me; this is a highly complicated process) I will behold those books left unread from the Shortlist, determine how many I am able to lay hands on, read those, and declare my choice prior to the announcement of the winner.

Et voilà! Bob's your uncle!

So far, I say Barnes will make it through. That's all I'm willing to conjecture; there are miles to go before I sleep.

But the Booker contenders are not all I've been reading. For the classics group at the library I re-read Voltaire's Candide, discovering how irritatingly unfamiliar I am  with the philosophies Voltaire was lampooning, determining I need to read a book about him and/or the enlightenment to offset my ignorance.

So, at Half Price Books (how I love thee!) I lucked upon:



From Booklist

A probing and careful biographer, Davidson recognizes that the transforming event of Voltaire's life came when he was banished from France. Losing his place in a country that idolized him as a poet and dramatist awakened Voltaire to political issues transcending national boundaries. In this chronicle of Voltaire's deep involvement in a series of post-exile campaigns to reverse barbaric court rulings, Davidson limns the great writer's remarkable transformation from a literary celebrity into an international champion of human rights. That metamorphosis generated scores of spirited letters initially appealing simply for the lives and liberty–or posthumous reputations–of specific individuals but finally demanding the radical reforms needed to free judicial proceedings from ecclesiastical tyranny. Davidson piquantly details Voltaire's real and unrelenting fight against the church hierarchy but also explodes the mythical image of Voltaire as an atheist and an egalitarian revolutionary. The brilliant writer of Candide knew all too well that this is far from "the best of all possible worlds"; this valuable study shows how resolutely he labored to make it a better one. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.




I also re-read portions of Kate Christensen's The Astral, in order to write my review for (which won't be up 'til next month). On audio I'm listening to DFW's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, wanting to cry hearing his voice, yet so glad it's been preserved.

Coming up, loads and loads of reviews I'm VERY behind in writing.


A work of zombie fiction for the R(eaders)A(dvisory)I(nterest)G(roup)

Zola's Germinal for the classics group at the library

Colson Whitehead's Zone One, for review

One ARC title I was excited to receive: Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon

Plus, NetGalley eBooks – loads of those.

As usual, there's more. Always more.


As always, have a lovely reading week. Please support your local library and indie booksellers!


Books mentioned in this post:

Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side

Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending

Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child

Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers

Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie

Voltaire's Candide

Ian Davidson's Voltaire in Exile

Kate Christensen's The Astral

DFWallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Zola's Germinal

Colson Whitehead's Zone One

Jaimy Gordon's The Bogeywoman