Thursday, August 22, 2019


If you have read, or at least glanced at, all 2,406 of my previous blog posts, you will understand that I enjoy a good template. If however you missed one, and only caught 2,405 of my previous blog posts, you will probably be wondering "Wait a second, who are you again?"

It's me. Meeee!

And I love a good template.

"Oh, right." You respond. But look who I'm telling how you respond! You know how you respond. You're you!

Wait, you are you, right?

Okay then.

Me? I'm the person who loves a good template. I'm just not very good at using them. Conceptually I'm strongly pro template. But practically I am the most bespoke person you will ever meet.

You haven't met me? Sure you've met me! I'm me, the one who loves a good template. 

But I think I like a good template just so I can break it. 

Recently I wrote a review of The Minnesota Marine Art Museum and it went pretty well, by which I mean the Museum itself saw it and told me all these nice things about it and asked if they could put it on their web page. I enthusiastically wrote back and said "Yes!" And then I never heard from them again.

This might make you a little sad, but that counts as a super successful blog post for me.

It doesn't make you sad?

Well, it makes me a little sad.

Anyway, the point is that it made me think about how it would be nice to write more reviews. No one noticed that my 200 Reviews of Rome series sort of petered out in the forties or fifties, but I remember, and more reviews are still required! Plus my wife and I are going to Florence soon, and so I thought:

Wouldn't it be great if I had a template for museum reviews!

And then I thought:

It sure would!

And then I sat down to write a really good one, and this came out instead.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

We teach you Proust

Downstairs I go after shelving in the fiction section of the library. 

"I just read "Remembrance of Things Past"!" I exclaim randomly to the first person I run into.

"Really." They reply. "Did you like it?"

"It was fine."

"I just read "Remembrance of Things Past"" I tell someone else a few moments later.

"Wow." They say.

"I just read "Remembrance of Things Past"" I say again, to a new person as soon as I can find one.

"My goodness. That's really something."

"Yes it is." I say.

"I just read "Remembrance of Things Past"" I say to someone else as I come upon them.

"OH!" They say. 

Then, "All of it?" They ask.

I shrug. "It's only four words."

I've read it, and now so have you, four times no less.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Falling star

The twinkling midnight city of Minneapolis is lit up but not in operation tonight. My blog is mysteriously down too as I write, but if you're managing to read this somewhere in the future I suppose it isn't anymore. You are always in the future to me, racing off to your spaceship at the drop of a hat and managing to read my blog because all technical difficulties are ancient history in your blissfully perfect utopia of the future.

Last week the Perseid Meteor Showers came and I got very excited about them. Who doesn't love a shooting star? But as I made my plans for watching bits of space debris go burning across the sky I remembered two unfortunate things:

It was overcast.

I live in a City of lights.

There are maps and scales for light pollution to help one choose the best places to see into space. I, like maybe you, live in nearly the worst measured area for seeing the stars, an eight or nine on the Bortle Scale. On these maps of light pollution it looks like we are all burning to death here. But if we could just get ourselves out to the middle of Lake Superior everything would be a perfect "one". Stars would fill the sky, and shooting stars would flood down like rain, I mean, if it weren't cloudy,  or, er, if it were cloudy. Oh it's all so confusing!

Of course the Perseids are pretty much over now for the year. There is only me falling from the sky. I look out my windows in the night and see but a few pale stars, even though the sky is clear. Lights are everywhere, except in the great Mississippi River gorge, which is quiet and has retreated for the night into space. The city burns, but the river runs ice down its center, dark wilderness where Minneapolis quietly disappears in the night. If only the sky were down there too.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Bringing libraries into the 21st century

Dear Library Patron,

We know that you love your local library. But what if it were even better?

We'd like to make it better, but we need your help!

Consider becoming a supporting member of your local library. For $100 a year, that's less than two dollars a week, you can make the difference in keeping us open longer, allowing us to provide less greasy books, and in providing a slightly less rude staff. But showing your support in this generous manner won't just give us the vital resources we need to continue to provide top quality library services such as seven year old computers, bathrooms, and programs for teens that will irritate you when you hear them happening from throughout the library,  it will also get you the special benefits that only supporting members receive! One hundred dollars a year (or $250 for your whole family) will get you your own bronze library card. This handsome bronze card allows early access to the library for a full two hours before regular opening and stay after privileges for an hour after our regular closing on week nights.

Not enough? You want more? Join us at the silver card level. Five hundred dollars gets you and your family silver card privileges. This includes all the bronze level privileges, plus access to our exciting new Target Weekend Nights at the Library, featuring four fun open hours after closing on Friday and Saturday just for you. Enjoy our open bar, roaming jugglers, and talented balloon sculptor. Also enjoy seeing your fines cut in half. That's right, silver card holders will pay only half the fines that everyone else does in thanks for their support!

But where there's silver there's sure to be gold. Gold cards are available to library supporters beginning at $2,000 a year (per person only). With a gold card you will enjoy all the above privileges, but you will also receive the thank you gift of being charged no fines. Yes, you will have no late fees associated with your card under any circumstances. That's not all though! A gold card allows morning access (before noon) to our brand new English Literature Club Lounge. There you will find plush velvet armchairs awaiting you, complimentary espresso beverages served by gloved valets, and all your favorite newspapers laid out for you, ironed by hand. While a gold card won't allow borrowing privileges from the beautifully preserved volumes of the English Literature Club Lounge, that world renowned collection will be there for your personal perusal as you wile away your morning in library luxury.

How, you wonder, can you check out the glorious artworks, technology, pristine bestsellers, and glamorous first editions housed in the English Literature Club Lounge? Support us at the Diamond Card Level, sponsored by Chase Manhattan. The diamond card holder receives everything that the bronze, silver, and gold card holder does, but they also have full day and evening access to our English Literature Club Lounge where a premium bar is available after noon, and your own personal valet/bookrunner will be on hand to assist you every day from two until ten, Tuesday through Saturday. As a diamond card holder you will not just help the library thrive with your extremely generous support, but you will also experience the ultimate in plush, hushed, leather and velvet library luxury. The soundproofed English Literature Club Lounge will be your library away from home and the one of a kind collection will be at your beck and call.

How much is a diamond card membership?

A lot.

No, seriously, a lot.

But if you cannot support us at any of these special card levels, don't worry! The library will always remain available to you, a standard level card holder (free), for at least four days a week at a minimum of five hours a day.

I mean, for awhile, depending on the political climate and our annual budget. 

We hope.

So thank you for anything you can do to help! Contributions of any size are what we need to keep us going. We can do this together!

Our deepest thanks for all your support,

The Library

Sunday, August 18, 2019

More sad tales of the front desk

There are half familiar people you will sometimes see while working the front desk of the library. You will think "Oh no." And your stomach will sink a little bit. And you will also think "They look like they're a lot of trouble", but you won't know why you think it. And you will hope against hope that they won't come up to the front desk to seek your help.

But they always do. And they always have. Because all those things you thought and felt about them were for a reason. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Improving customer service

For today's customer service discussion please consider the following comments from two different customer service representatives:

1. "Can I help you with anything else? Thank you then and have a good evening."

2. "Can I help you with anything else? Thank you then and have a good evening."

Now obviously the second is vastly preferable to the first. But why? After all, both of these statements are exactly the same.

Oh, right, both of these statements are exactly the same! This may turn out to be more difficult to explain than I thought.

Perhaps I can explain it with tone? Picture the first statement as spoken by someone using a script, as reciting, as someone endeavoring to be the physical embodiment of the institution they are representing. Picture their statement as an expression of policy. Its intonation devoid of warmth and life and presence.

Now for the second, picture a person, talking to you. Just a person saying something because it seemed like the good thing to say at the moment. It could have been something else.

The first type of intonation is most common from phone help representatives of all kinds these days, especially the kind one has to wait on hold for, but it also comes up in its share of physical venues, particularly when there are large corporate chains involved, or also with notably bureaucratic institutions. These robot fetishising people have a tendency to fall apart when anything slightly difficult or off-script is needed. When I encounter this first type I am wary of the sort of help I'll receive. The lack of humanity kind of freaks me out and disturbs me a little

The second type, merely a person working, doing their job as they can without disappearing into it, might be found anywhere, because, well, people are really just everywhere

Oddly enough this second type makes me wary of the help I'll receive too. And they commonly freak me out and disturb me slightly as well, what with their being humans and everything. 

But it is, nevertheless, still a notable improvement.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The writer's lament and olive branch

I know I have touched on this theme in this space before, but seeing as I write here often, daily, and for many years, six, I think it bears refreshing. It is a statement of principle, perhaps, at once both ill and pure. In other days, possibly, we can plumb the psychology of it, but today is for the sheer, raw, writer's feeling of it. It is a naked truth renewed. Read it in all its acid as you dare:

I hate everyone who is not reading this.

This is not a joke. Or a test. Or a playful use of the work "hate".

I hate everyone not reading this!

Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate hate, hate, hate.

Which, luckily, and with perfect reliability, does not include you.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


Up on one of our staff bulletin boards, the only popular one, where the daily schedule is posted, I came across some upcoming classes. These are classes we can take on work time for our professional development. I never take these classes because I don't want to develop any more professionally. I'm afraid with any more professional development I'll become too accomplished, like as one over-muscled, hulking, bulging out my t-shirts in an obscene fashion, and intimidating my co-workers into a mute and unproductive awe.

So, right, I don't take these classes. But I did look at the sheet offering one this week called "The Art of Motivation". Immediately I cast about for a co-worker to whom I could say "I really like the look of that 'The Art of Motivation' class, but I just can't seem to come up with enough reasons or energy to go to it."

But everyone was just so far away, it wasn't really a very funny remark, and what, when it comes down to it, was the point of it all anyway?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

All flies are individuals

There is the dark side:

Lately, in our clean and well-kept apartment, we have been experiencing bizarre, sudden blooms of flies. Typing away some Thursday afternoon on my computer I will suddenly look up to see half a dozen flies sluggishly slamming themselves into our many closed windows, drunkenly lurching away, then wandering confusedly about for awhile. I get out my John Prine Flyswatter, messily kill them all, clean up their corpses and gory spilled guts, and then notice that three new flies have shown up. So I kill those too. Then there's a couple more. I murder them and that usually does it for awhile.

We have no meat full of maggots sitting around, and there is no easy rational explanation for these flies. It's all a little Amityville Horror for me.

And then, on the other hand,

There is the light side:

I am pushing a cart of non fiction down our long hall and a fly joins me, calmly bobbing down to the elevator as I go. I push the elevator button and wait. The fly rests politely on my cart. The elevator opens and the fly flies in and settles on the floor. I roll in. We regard each other calmly.

The door opens. I roll the cart out as the fly flies out as well. The fly makes a quiet loop in the air to give me time to open the staff door out to the public. I push my cart through and the fly heads off into the library. We wave peaceably to each other in farewell.

There is little in the way of rational explanation for this one as well, merely the strange sense of kinship and camaraderie. Unlike the horror films of the first, it doesn't remind me of any movies or books I can think of. Flies have yet to capture the popular imagination. However, I am just beginning to think it is not necessarily beyond them.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The death of poetry

Wearily I pushed my cart of non fiction books down the long hall.  I was on my way to shelve them on the second floor of the library. On the elevator ride up I looked over all the books on my cart. Once again there were a whole bunch of poetry books on it.

"Ach!" I cried out irritably "What's the point of shelving all these poetry books again! No one ever checks them out anyway!"

Monday, August 12, 2019

What you get for virtue

It has long been a feature of libraries that one is financially punished for transgressions. The most legendary of all these punishments is known as "The late fine". But let me ask you this: why don't you get anything nice for doing things right?

They say that virtue is its own award. And I think...

What? They don't? Are you sure? Cause I'm almost pos...

Well, it's definitely one of those "...ward" words. I know that. Yes, it could be "reward", but it may also be "coward" or, possibly "toward". Virtue is toward. Well maybe it's not toward. Wait, I know:

Virtue is a sword!

Actually, I think it's more like a butter knife. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

No, I agree. We should move along.

"Okay," Hypothetical person asks "If we give fines out for being late, what kind of rewards can we give to people for just doing things properly?"

I have an idea!

Everybody gets a nickel credit on their account for every item returned on time! It's not redeemable for cash, but only against any charges on one's record.

As so often happens in my life you are probably thinking "That's mildly clever." While I am thinking " I am a genius!"

Oddly enough it turns out that I am right this time while you have understated it. I can even explain.

There are currently two serious issues at the forefront of library culture.

One is the trend away from late fees. More and more systems feel fines more adversely affect children, the poor, and the under privileged in the community. More and more systems are exploring the elimination of some or nearly all fines. And good for them. There is a downside to this and that is that people waiting in line for popular items may wait for what seems like forever while someone keeps their item illegally without repercussions!

The other trend is that, while libraries tend to be broadening their services, they are still faced with relentlessly declining circulation numbers. These are bread and butter numbers for selling their budgets to County Boards, cities, and sometimes states.

Under my carrot and the stick solution we solve both of these fundamental problems. Any family besieged by late fines can fix their problems without spending money, merely by checking out more items. Nevertheless, because people value their resources, even if it be a credit on their account, they will have an incentive to return items in a timely matter, an incentive other than virtue being its own stupid reward. Meanwhile people will, as they ever do, screw up constantly, and, owing us tons of money, be forced to check out hundreds of extra materials they don't want. 


1. Rich people continue to buy themselves out of fines, providing us with some revenue.

2. Poor people and cheap people check out more things to pay off their fines, making our circulation numbers soar, and securing our budget sources.

3. The underprivileged become trapped in a library cycle of checkouts, fines, more checkouts to pay fines. This leads to them reading and becoming increasingly enlightened. Which inevitably leads to the overthrow of the oligarchy, Capitalism, and the class system.

At which point we'd have to revamp our library fine system once again.

Which I'm sure we'll be able to handle.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Ancient mariner at Minnesota Marine Art Museum

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
'By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

Why did I stopp'st thou? I stopp'st thou to tell you about The Minnesota Marine Art Museum of Winona.

I do it as an old man did it for me, compelled, tugging at the sleeve of your coat, with a wild look in my eye as of one cursed or blessed by some riveting vision or come back from the terrible face of truth.  For years this old man would come to the library I work at, and, as if under suchlike compulsion, he would ask me if I had been yet to The Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

"No." I would sadly say over the years. Over and over. And every time I did so his heart would seem to break before my eyes.

He got older and older. So did I. And he never stopped asking.

Then one summer my wife and I decided to go to The Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona on a little overnight trip down the Mississippi.

We'd heard good things about it.

I for one had heard good things about it 271 times over the course of a decade.

Oh they were all of them true! Every last good thing!

I knew that one of the two existing versions of Washington Crossing the Delaware was there, and it is a striking painting indeed, full of clarity and moment and little historical details and inaccuracies. I knew they had a Van Gogh. I knew about the Picasso and the Monets. And they were all pretty great. But I knew about them almost as curiosities, like, how could this wee, insignificant museum in the middle of nowhere hold paintings by significant historical artists?

I was looking at it all wrong.

This would be a museum well worth visiting in any city in the world: Paris, Tokyo, Rome, New York. In a lovely, well-spaced building, echoing elements of rehabbed warehouse, northeastern seaside building of a couple hundred years ago, and an odd, subtle dash of prairie architecture, situated gracefully on the banks of the Mississippi, this museum's one rule is that the paintings and art relate to, feature, and are inspired by water. If you think about it this probably still includes a good third of all paintings from art history. So it's just about the right sort of restriction, giving focus and a connecting thread through everything without making one miss out on too many hot paintings. Does the Mona Lisa have water for instance? Yep. Starry Night? It might. I think so, but I can't tell for sure about those smeary blue lines in the foreground of the town. Birth of Venus? Yes, totally. Dali's Persistance of Memory? That's the sea behind all those melting clocks! Girl with a Pearl Earring? No, sorry, no water there even if you could, theoretically stretch the pearl to being a object of the Sea, but you get my point.

Are all these artists in this museum? No. But the list of artists of the first order that are there is far too long to list profitably here. In fact, to truly impress you I will take a page from The Minnesota Marine Art Museum itself. I will restrict myself to the sea, telling you about artists in the museum whose last names begin with, wait for it, "C". By some curious twist of fate I noticed that most of my favorite paintings in this gorgeous museum were, indeed, by these artists of the "C". So I jotted them down for you.

The best Courbet I have ever seen in my life, Source of the Lison, was in this museum, and, tremendously dazzled as I have been by Courbet in the past, this is no small thing.  It's a naturalistic picture of the mouth of a cave without horizon or sky.

Cezanne, who sometimes feels too detached and cerebral for me, has a gorgeous riverside painting that is pure impressionist delight. Mary Cassatt's picture of a girl reading (with a sliver of river out the window in the background) was a beautiful character study I only noticed in retrospect out of my wife's accolades. Corot's landscape was a work of strangely dappled magic, dotted about with leaves, texture and definition as if they were light itself. And then also in the realm of sheer, painterly wizardry was Constable's dark, oil smeary little creek hollow scene, somehow a quiet wonder among vast dozens of all the other superb, watery landscapes. And finally we get the gloriously romantic and heartstoppingly colorful Chagall, a dream of love that comes with a fish and flowers.

And so I was converted. I too became a Mariner of the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, compelled to wander the world telling everyone I meet, wild-eyed, that you must see it. You must.

It's a terrible curse, but it was worth it.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

In book book reviews

While shelving some JoJo Moyes books I came across a long, local realtor sponsored piece of note paper tucked inside, on which someone had written "This book was dumb. I'm pretty sure my mom thought so too." Then it had a picture of a realtor and his wife and dog smiling a lot.

Sorry JoJo.

While this likely would do little for JoJo Moyes and the happiness of her day, I was enriched by it. I mean, I wasn't necessarily thinking of reading any JoJo Moyes books, but if they're dumb I can kind of cross it off my list, I mean, just after I put it on my list.

I've always been hostile to people writing in books, but it did make me wonder, what if we had a couple pages in the back of all our library books for people to leave behind their brief reviews and comments? For a person who, when encountering a likely looking book out in the stacks, can't help but run to the nearest computer to read Goodreads or Amazon reviews of it, it sure would be nice to merely need to consult the back end papers for some authentic feedback on the book. I'm thinking something like this:

Me Before You 
 by JoJo Moyes

Please feel free to write a brief comment or review about this book in the space below!

8-17-17:  I've heard great things about this JoJo Moyes book so I'm really excited to read this one. It should be great. I'll check back in later!

10-9-17: I hope it's okay to write here. I was wondering if the librarian could request for me season four of Bewitched. My name is Louise Schiller, phone number 448-555-0284. Thank you so much.

2-18-18: I just wanted to write down that what appears to be a spaghetti sauce stain on page 77 is not mine. It was already there when I was reading and eating spaghetti! You need to charge the person who had the book before me.

4-7-18: I liked it a lot. I think Kirsten Hannah is a terrific writer and this book is one of her best ones.

12-19-18: Good! Two stars.

2-10-19:  Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes.

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

I read this as an ebook. 

6-11-19:  Didn't read. Ran out of time. Wish there was a seventh renewal option.

7-15-19: This book was dumb. I'm pretty sure my mom thought so too.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The concise dream

Yesterday a reader's fantasy came upon me: What if every book I encountered was exactly the length of my interest in it? That could be a lovely little bit of magic. No more bogging down in the text. No more skimming or hanging in there, hoping it would get better. No more reading, bored, because I forgot how to stop. No more searching through book after book after book trying to find something I like. I would like everything.

But though I am a dreamer, I cannot but help ever bringing a realistic turn to all my dreams. And with that realism I understand that while there would be many, many books for me, most of them would be terribly short.

I'd still take it. It's only fair- to the precise length of my interest. It's how I write too.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

For a good book

There sure are a lot of books. Especially when one works at a library. I work at a library and I am fascinated. Seriously, I am wildly, deeply fascinated by every single book here. Meaty, pretty, battered, interesting things. I would read them all!

Some I read the spine, some I don't. Some I pick up, some I don't. Some I open, some I don't. I would read them all. If only...

...If only they were all the exact length of my interest.

I am writing to you now facing a wall of roughly a thousand books. And there are a thousand books at my back. We have, very roughly, 2,000 books in a row here. Fourteen rows in fiction, so 28,000 books or so in all. And at the precise length of my interest I would not turn down a single one.

Most would be a sentence or two, a paragraph. To open a book and find two or three pages would be a delight. And if I pulled off a book with heft to it? If the spine was full of paper? If I opened a book to find page after page of white and black in its mysterious, intelligible patterns, all numbering on and on into the the hundreds?

Oh how my heart would pound.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019


A co-worker I was at the front desk with misinterpreted some small event and wanted to know if library cards can be restricted from checking out video games.

"No." I said. But I didn't feel it was the full detailed answer I like to give, so I added "But a parent can fill out a form to put restrictions on their child's card. So, technically, yes." But now I was on a roll so I added "But I have only ever seen bad, crazy parents put any restrictions on their child's card."

She said "You're very judgmental."

And then she took an excruciatingly long time to register two people for library cards, over complicating the whole thing and telling them an endless litany of pointless information, while I had to handle all the work of the front desk for the next 45 minutes.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A short observation

I had a five day vacation with my wife. It was lovely, perfect really. And at the time it seemed like a long break.

But now I am back working at the library. Thunder from a nearby storm shakes the city. Life goes on. I think about lunch, cooking as it is slowly, untended on the break room stove. I am upstairs shelving the last of three carts of books, and my sense of how long this vacation was has to be revised down. Way down.

It was not long at all.

It was now the length of one beautiful cloud, drifting by on the invisible wind.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The forest of threes part three

In my first piece about three we discussed how things come in threes. In my second piece about three we discussed how things come in threes. And I'm glad you read them. I'm glad you stuck with me. Because this is the culmination, this is where it all comes together, this is the third piece about three.

Which you must admit has an elegant resonance to it.

If only I had some idea what it could be about.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

In the forest of threes: part two

Yesterday we learned that everything comes in threes.

It's amazing. Everything does indeed come in threes, because, you know, as soon as you have something, anything, you can pretty well group it with something else, so long as you're willing to apply any effort to it, because everything has something in common with something else. And once you've done that bit of work you can always find another one to complete your set. So that's three, which is the number everything comes in. And then if there's an obvious fourth one that you can't avoid it's just a matter of time, with that many, before another two come along and you're on safe ground once again. Whew!

But what if there's a whole bunch of stuff all at once, way more than three? Well, it merely means that you're not grouping things correctly. A simple illustration can be made with colors or clouds. We can sit here naming colors or clouds for hours and never get to the end of it. But they're just iterations of the three colors. Red, Yellow, Blue. And the three cloud types. Cirrus, Cumulus, and Stratus. And the reason there are three colors and three clouds is because there are three of everything. Just three. Only three. Three.

And for my third proof that everything comes in three, well, for the life of me I can't think of one.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

An annual thing

I have to interrupt a series I was in the middle of on this blog to say something, particularly, this day.

Not that the series wasn't saying something... necessarily. I mean, it might have been, maybe, saying something. I was still working that part out. So let's just set that aside for a brief moment. Because I have to say something.

And what I'm saying might make perfect sense to you, or it might make no sense at all. I'm okay with both of those.

It's not gloating.
I refuse to believe it can or will curse anything.
I say it with humility and awe.

I got lucky.