Thursday, October 31, 2013


This year's Halloween blog post is dedicated to my co-worker Sue, who died quite a few years ago now, and made an unnamed appearance in this blog post, written long before I had a blog. It is dedicated to her because one Halloween I went and bought some very fancy individual fangs that you molded to your teeth. But it turned out they didn't really stay in properly, and you needed denture cream. Sue gave me her denture cream, which worked perfectly. I am still grateful.

I think of myself as loving Halloween, but it strikes me now that things are not so simple. I love all the pseudo scary decorations, but when they cross too much into the truly scary I lose my appetite for it all. Disneyland's Haunted House perches just so on that edge for me. I was never keen on the part when things jump out, but that they did it all just far enough away, and in a rhythm, pacified me somewhat. The rest of the ride was about perfect. The rise of serious Halloween decorating in my neighborhood has been an intense pleasure to me that expresses that quality of winking mystery and glowy, spooky, comedy.

As a child I loved the candy of Halloween fiercely and still remember pouring over it and cataloging it with a deranged miser's intensity. Now I am indifferent to it, having eaten a vast array of better things that I can usually acquire at will. As an open eyed adult I am easily able to see through the hollow, empty tricks of commercial candy, which only tastes good if you pay no attention to it. I'll idly eat it on occasion in the season, not paying attention to it, but what fun is that?

I have always liked dressing up, but when I reflect on it, I get strong feelings of sadness and loneliness rather than joyous feelings of celebrated parties. I'm pretty sure it's too serious an endeavor for me. It's supposed to be theater but I've never found the right approach. I've always wanted to draw into myself all the way, or fully inhabit the role. It just felt like too much, being and not being something else. And I have never in my life been good at parties.

I have some old film footage of me dressed as a hobo for the Halloween after I turned four. I have no real memories of it, but I seem terribly sad and sweet to myself. Who knows what autonomy I had in the choice of that costume, but there is something about it. Something talking from deep inside that I was dressed as a rootless, homeless wanderer at age four. Breaks my heart.

In art school one year, for a big school party in downtown San Francisco, full of all those hip, cutting edge young artists, I went naked. My costume was artist's model, or Adam before the fall. It was a strange thing to do, a bit of performance art really. Maybe a little, we can put on costumes by removing things too. I have always told myself the story of how alienating and lonely that party was because of my nudity. But writing this now I am strangely understanding something I've never understood in all the long years since then. I always felt that way at big parties like that, lonely, isolated, uncomfortable, abandoned, unable to interact. There was nothing about that party that was different than how I normally felt. Being naked in public was not uncomfortable to me. I was actually fine with it. It was an expression of something I already felt, a way to dress as a hobo. Surreal, dangerous, but oddly present.

Nothing fancy for tonight. My spirit is calmer and deeper. We'll hurl our door open and hand out candy to neighborhood kids. How dazzled they look as all the heat and brightness and strange interior hurtles out to greet them. How dazzled I am by the clamor of festooned arrays of small children suddenly washed up by the night. They seem to have to squeeze out the ritual. "Trick or treat." they usually manage to say. Who knows? Life. But I have some candy for them.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I have been gearing up for some time now to perform a thundering evisceration of outsourcing in public institutions, not least of all, Libraries. Unfortunately this discussion, as it is, seems to fall under the category of Politics, and just starting to compose something in my head about it causes blood to start trickling out from under my fingernails. Such a thing is not likely to be good for a person, especially me, as I have delicate hands. Furthermore, I have long ago drawn a line in the sand here at clerkmanifesto that says if I start raving about things like "lapdog unions" and "bovine administrators" I'm to immediately pull the plug on whatever essay I'm writing and cut my coffee rations down to seven cappuccinos a day, at least until I can once again be responsible with all that power. So here I am not writing about outsourcing, at least until I have a considerably more reasonable, low key, and smaller scale, way in.

Nevertheless, I was thinking about all this wild anger over outsourcing, and wondering a little at its source. Surely there's a kind of fear of it, I would hate beyond belief to have my job outsourced, and certainly there's all its injustice and evil and blah blah blah. But I felt I was missing something else, some tinder, some highly flammable part of it that I just couldn't get to in all my righteousness. So I poked at it. And then I got it.

I'm jealous. I want to outsource my job!

"Whoa! Wait! You want your job to be outsourced?" You cried out, whether you wanted to or not, because I have full control of the keyboard, including the essential "quote" keys.

No. I don't ever want my job to be outsourced. I want to outsource my job. Therein lies all the difference.

I understand your confusion. Culturally, we speak all the time about peoples' jobs being outsourced. This is perceived as negative, usually, and always so for the person whose job is being outsourced. That person loses their job while some company or contractor takes on getting their job done. The whole process can be seen variously as evil, foolish, shrewd, necessary, inevitable, or any combination of the above. But no one talks about outsourcing one's own job. There is always a line in outsourcing between the swath of displaced people who are dismissed, and a level of management who supervised all of them and stays. This is always the other side of the outsourcing equation, but it is never spoken of. To speak of it rather blows the lid off the whole thing. That is because no one loses their own job when they outsource it themselves. They keep their own job, but pay someone else to do it for them. That never looks good.

Let us say you are the head of prisons in some southern state. Your job is a headache. You've got all these different wardens reporting to you, you're fighting for scarce budget resources, you're desperately schmoozing with politicians to curry favor, but you rarely have anything to give to them. You're visiting your various prisons for really depressing tours, fighting to meet a host of federal prison regulations with wholly inadequate resources, and barely able to enjoy your ample salary because you work all the time. It's an exercise in futility.

Then, one day, a very nice man, who is very rich and well connected comes to you and offers to do all this nasty stuff for you, well within your current budget. You may even know that this is like an introductory offer, like a year's subscription to a magazine for five dollars, but here's the thing. It doesn't matter. When the amount this company charges skyrockets they will be there for you. With political power, capital, and a history of contributions, they will argue for the budget required. Indeed, they'll hardwire it into the budget through contracts, something you could never have dreamed of doing. They'll even argue for a nice fat raise for you! They'll put across intricate laws that funnel more prisoners and more money to themselves, but they will always make you look good. It's irresistible. So you outsource your job.

Now that this has happened, most of what you have to do is meet with the agents of the people doing your job for you. Do you meet them at prisons? No, you meet them at very nice corporate offices in swanky cities, or perhaps even at the best restaurants nearby. You say "Can you give us a slightly better deal on this contract?" Then you say "No, you can't? Well, keep up the good work!" Or you can skip the first part, but either way you'll be collecting your steadily waxing paycheck and playing a lot of golf, or video games, or blogging, or single malt collecting, or running for the Senate, or whatever it is you like to do.

I could certainly go more deeply into this, I'd even sort of like to. But I'd start inordinately using the word evil, and you know the rest from there. And besides, that's not my point. My point is, hey, what about me? I want some of this action.

I go see the Library Director. I am with a very spiffy executive type. We present our case, except the executive type is way better than me at this sort of thing, so they talk. For 6,000 dollars a year the executive's company will take care of my duties, with a 50% improvement in work output guaranteed. It's like getting an extra half time clerk for 6,000 bucks. The executive from (tm) also promises to make it so that their fee sources directly from county budgets and not Library budgets. Soon it will be like getting a half time clerk for free!

Naturally, the director goes for it.

Soon I am nominally supervising a team of seven low paid, but very eager, very part time workers who do some vague version of my job. They do vastly more shelving, less accurately, and they are terrible at the front desk, but, strangely, people don't complain much. I only really have to show up a couple days a week, and I spend most of that time giving pointers and blogging and drinking cappuccinos, so, sort of like what I do now with the core "work" part extracted. As the fee for my job (and a half) climbs up over a hundred thousand dollars a year, no worries, has it all under control through connections, donations, and legislations. Things are going so well that before long I'm just popping in once a week, or once every other week sometimes. My blog only rarely features Library related stories anymore and instead I am able to concentrate on my ruminations on squirrels. With this ability to really focus I bring something very special to squirrel blogging and my readership increases a healthy 3% every four years, which is pretty meteoric for a person writing so much about squirrels.

I get all tingly thinking about it.

When it comes time for me to retire there's no point to actually do so, since by then I no longer even have to bother to show up at the Library unless I want to check out a book. The county deposits money in my account and spending it is pretty much the extent of my duties. I have no problem doing a good job at this even as I age into my nineties and beyond. The CEO is very rich, and though the millions and millions of low paid employees who work for live in poverty and have to visit food shelves and apply for disappearing food stamp aid, it's hard for me to get very sympathetic. They could pull themselves up by their bootstraps just like I did and find some way to outsource their own jobs (which is doing the job of people like me!). Maybe they can get a second job and outsource that too. Time is money.

And that's about it. I feel very calm, very reasonable, even a little enlightened. No blood leaking out from under my fingernails now. I mean, none of my own.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Six percent pure wisdom

Here are some random things that could be expanded into full blog posts, but probably shouldn't be. Like with the Internet itself I have hidden the quality material carefully amongst the detritus. I will not tell you which is which as I feel it's a win-win for everyone when you mix them up.

No good book has ever been written by two authors of disproportionate fame levels.

The teen librarian isn't really reading those books in the break-room. He's just posing artfully and waiting for another glossy librarian magazine to come and take his picture for their cover. Note how he's always at a flattering angle to the light and looks vaguely heroic.

One cannot trust publishers as they are in it strictly for the money. When looking for something good to read at the Library always start in the unpublished manuscript section.

The higher you go hierarchically in any institution the more overstaffed it will be. Bear in mind even "one" can be over-staffing. 

Being legally blind makes one an even better and safer driver.

It takes just two weeks for our Library's number of visitors to total the entire population of the city we are in. Of course, not all 34,000 residents of our city visit us every fortnight. Most of our statistical visits derive from one regular patron who goes out to get stuff from his car a lot.

Our used book sales remain popular because peoples' houses are too big and books are an inexpensive way to stuff them.

Our Library branch's refusal to carry our own subscription to US magazine says to everyone "We are the classy branch in our library system."

One architectural firm has designed every new library built in North America over the last nine years.

My local newspapers have gone to the internet model: they mainly collect the work of other people.

If your cough has persisted for over three years it is no longer a cough, rather it is a way of life.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Box in library

I arrived early at the Library today to be told a crate had been delivered for me. I am in charge of supplies at my Library, but things usually arrive in mundane boxes and the supplies tend to get spontaneously sucked into the Library ecosystem rather than directed to me personally. Nevertheless this was a crate, made of wood, and so specifically notable. It was made of rough planks of the sort you might find in palettes, sometimes gapped, sometimes smooth, and sometimes warped and furry. Every join of it was assembled and held together with screws and then reinforced with even more screws. It was festooned with screws. It was addressed not with corporate mass produced stickers, and computer generated labels, but with someone apparently having much fun with a wood burning set, the sort of thing that might be popular in creating a sign of the family name to nail onto the front post of a country home. The wood burning addressing was, unlike the traditional country home plaques, done with a deeply unschooled hand, and though readable, was childishly crude, and thus slightly charming. My name, my Library name, and a roughly accurate address were burned in deep, and deeply uneven, black grooved lettering on two sides of the box. Small sounds seemed to be issuing from the box.

In my experience there is no emergency and no special, unusual task at my Library for which we have at hand the proper tools. However, once you involve three or four of your co workers in a search, or if you merely look long enough yourself, you can usually find, bizarrely hidden, or in a wildly different context, the appropriate tool. Barring that, you will find, in the ramshackle place any large Library becomes, a roughly useable facsimile or substitute for the item you need. We found both. A Phillips head screwdriver was finally tracked down to a station of the book repairers (are many books screwed together these days?). However, the screwdriver proved to be annoyingly tedious with the plethora of screws, which were all small and at least partly stripped. Something vaguely resembling a crowbar, which may have been a slab of metal from some ancient boiler, was located in the garage. Prying the wood apart turned out to be the more expedient solution.

With two planks up I was able to get a look inside. At first sight there seemed to be nothing but straw and shreds of newspaper. But almost simultaneous with the animal smell that rose up, was movement. A small cat, really a kitten still, was inside emerging sloppily from sleep. I scooped it up. I interrupted its nap. It regarded me with irritated interest. It was a he. He wore a black collar with a hammered medal medallion that read "K."

I order supplies from administration. They send things to me in an erratic fashion. Something as simple as pens, or library cards, can, for no particular reason, take months of ordering and multiple requests, but at the same time nothing ever seems to be, in particular, off limits. My three month old request for "Cats (1), gray or black" seemed to have surprisingly paid off.

I got the cat a bowl of milk. My understanding is that you're not supposed to give cats cow's milk, but the cat seemed to like it quite a bit. I pet it. I called it Kafka. Then I had to go to work on the phones. The cat didn't mind. He seemed to have quite a few things to take care of already himself. He went off. I watched him admiringly. He walks like a drunk cat, but teeming with mysterious confidence as he does it. Two people almost tripped over him or around him, but he paid it no mind. Clearly he is not one of those cats who is fast, but rather one who controls the movement around him to express himself. I think he may be the sort of cat who can get done whatever he wants to get done if he ever decides he wants to get anything done. Nevertheless, I think our mice problem may be over. 

Not that we ever had a mice problem.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

My birthday

As presaged in a recent post, today is my birthday. What, you might wonder, do I like to do on my birthday? Well, I like to spend it with my wife. But at the Library, around the general time of my birthday, what I like to do is sort of work in the fact that my birthday is coming up. I do this anywhere and everywhere I can. I try and do it real natural like, just like I've been doing in this blog post. Like it's all pretty much an accident that I'm bringing it up, but I wouldn't feel right withholding the information, or, again like here, it's necessary to mention the fact to make my broader point. Co workers, patrons, inanimate objects, I like to share the news in this mercurial way. "Oh" I say to some patron I am registering a library card for "I was born on the 27th too!"

"March 27th?" They ask, thinking maybe I'm saying something remotely relevant and interesting, that is, that maybe we have the same birthday.

"No, October 27th!"


"It's very soon." I say.

"Happy birthday." They say politely.

I get very shy. "Thanks." I respond quietly.

And that's just it. After I've managed to inform every possible living and non living thing about my impending birthday, when people wish me happy birthday I think it's very nice of them and all, but I'm a bit surprised too. 

How did they know?!

Saturday, October 26, 2013


I am often sharing with you my personal experiences here in an instructive way. But the hard truth is that personal experience is sometimes not such a great thing to take instruction from. Let me share my personal experience on this matter to try to convince you. A patron at my Library is concerned that something they returned has not gotten checked in. They know they put it in the automated return, and now, after days have passed, it still shows as checked out on their card. This is upsetting! From my perspective, it is business as usual, but I have the requisite imagination and perhaps, more importantly, the same sorts of aggrieved anxieties that let me understand how upsetting such a thing can be. So I give a long, pacifying, and eminently truthful explanation. I explain how, very rarely, something can come through the machine and not get checked in. I explain our process for how to deal with that and how, if the item was returned, we really do find it and resolve it fairly, without charges. Finally I explain how if, freakishly, our process doesn't come up with the item, talking to an individual at that point will resolve the issue. Most people are okay with this. But some people have had it, and they vow to only return their items directly to a person from now on. Their experience with the machine return is sullied forever, and any explanation from me that portrays human error in such an instance to be as likely as machine error falls on deaf ears. They have had a bad experience and it looms large, too large, but their statistical field of analysis is too small to make a reasonable judgement. It's as if they rolled a die twice and it showed, by chance, a three both times, and they are now convinced, in the scheme of things, they will mostly roll threes when they roll dice. I see this play out a lot at my Library. There are missing items from the shelf, botched notifications, transit mishaps, all quite rare, but not rare to the people they happen to. It can run that way with positive experiences too, though there tends to be less fuss with those. If, against all odds, I procure something rare and splendid and exactly right for someone, they may not be ungrateful, but they can easily take it all as matter of course, and only I, steeped in the bigger numbers and the constant experience with it, might know just what kind of a jackpot they hit.

These are all small instances of this sort of error of judgement, but these things are not bounded by size. It is hard to imagine that someone like Barack Obama has not been battered by an array of almost unavoidable fallacies from the outsizeness of his success. One need not diminish his vast talents to say that a series of something akin to miracles took him to where he is, and once there, or on his way there, he was more and more steeped in people of insane fortune, wealth, and power. He has rolled seven threes in a row, hanging out with other people rolling statistically flukey rolls of the highest order. What's he supposed to think? My head would be turned too. The happy magic of the dice more and more supersedes the weird, distant, theoretical contradiction of what actually is, reality.

I read, in my march through Michael Chabon's essays, one about the virtues of writing programs. It was okay, and his main point about its virtues was different than what it seemed to be at first. At first the virtues were something about teaching a person to write, giving them time, and, not least, having teachers send your work off to their agent or publishers or something. It got my hackles up just a bit at that start, and I think it had something to do with the piece of it all that he didn't say. That he's a freak, a Pulitzer Prize winning, making a living writing literature freak. How many writing program graduates are pulling that one off?

In my youth I went to art school. It was mostly a very good and interesting experience. I learned much. Maybe one blog post I'll talk all about it. But, no doubt, what I would say about it would be very different if I were some Picasso of our time. How full of destiny that education would be! How essential the teachers! But I am not the Picasso, and I get the alumni newsletters. No one is the Picasso of our time. And no doubt very, very, very few of any of us, from all the many many like schools, pull out a graceful living painting and sculpting for Museums and Millionaires. So with the numbers unsullied by my experience I say "You want to paint, go to art school or not. It doesn't matter. There's a lot of ways to learn a lot of things. It can be great. It depends."

 I work at a Library. I've learned as much there as I suppose that I've learned anywhere. It's been interesting. It's been boring. It's paid bills. And you can bet, when I am President of the United States, I will be sure to note how it's the very thing everyone should consider doing. Look where it got me.

Friday, October 25, 2013


When I was around ten or eleven I lived in a hilly Los Angeles suburb called Woodland Hills. My backyard was a plank of mostly crabgrass resulting from an early, unfortunate, and famously ill advised family experiment with weed killer, and was quite suitable for endless games of miniaturized sports like Wiffle Ball and two on one nerf football. This playing field terminated at a pretty steep hill that ran down to our neighbor's backyard below us. A chain link fence, about a quarter of the way down the hill, divided the properties and left us about six feet of hill all to ourselves. This bit of hill was the abode of lizards, bare dirt, and large clumps of a very nice succulent I know to this day only as iceplant. One day, in our endless, desperate, suburban search for self-entertainment, some friend and I decided to dig a great tunnel into the side of that hill. Our plan was to tunnel in and open out a glorious underground abode. It was to be a fort, maybe a wonderland. Visions of a kind of subterranean Disneyland danced in my head. It was one of my earliest and most profound encounters with the wild and ferocious ambitions of my imagination and concomitantly with the way my visions and efforts could sometimes combine with the real world to create an almost pitifully small effect.

We drew up crude schematics expressing vast rooms and underground pools, fun house mazes, bowling alleys and a world of our own. And then, with much excitement, we set to work. I believe we were equipped with two tools. The "good" tool was a hand shovel. The less good tool was some kind of fork-tongued weeding tool, little more than a glorified screwdriver. We worked a long time, our vision fevering us on. We stopped frequently to assess our progress: Hour one, "We are definitely making a dent in the hill." Hour two, "The dent in the hill is definitely growing." Hour three, "You can even set things on the dent." Hour four, "I can sort of be in the dent." And so it went. The first day was the big work day, though we maybe idly picked at it over the next few days. Whether we had progressed from "dent" to "slight concavity" would be a matter for debate. We would have needed to carefully examine the shade lines at noon. Certainly anything remotely resembling a hole never came into it. As to underground lair, don't be silly.

And so I was introduced to a strong streak of Charlie Brown theme in my life. Dreams don't often turn out like you imagine. You are not the great hero of the Baseball field. The football is withdrawn. You cannot make Disneyland under your backyard equipped with a friend and a dandelion weeder. I have, since this digging foray, embarked upon many a grand project, some with all the wild ambitions of that first one. You will not have heard of them. They did not reach the stratospheric heights of realization and acclaim that was intended for them.

Seek and ye shall find. Try and you will succeed. Well, miracles happen every day I suppose. But I am pretty sure at this point that trying, even trying very very hard, only has a very tenuous connection to succeeding. All that try and you will succeed stuff is for accountants, not dreamers.

So do I advocate giving up? Do I advocate despair? No. Actually I feel pretty good right now. I might even feel like I'm getting the trick of it. You do not dream and then try to fill the dream. You dream right into it. You do not write the great "Dreaming" essay that is filled with wonders. You write, about dreaming, and you fill it with dreams as you go.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Library programs

It is de rigueur in modern Library circles to constantly come up with vibrant, new, and innovative Library programs and then vaunt the hell out of them. The programs need not be particularly useful or interesting, though I suppose often enough they are. Their main goal is to create the look of industriousness, vitality, and value to the taxpayer. They are to dazzle and confuse the great Republican eye that currently extends deep into the moderate flank of Democrats and would explode with a dangerous rage if it realized that there is genuine, highly effective and popular socialism carrying along, in a matter of course way, right under their noses, right in the innocent Libraries. 

All these programs, useful indeed though they may be, all your WWII speakers and classes on how to use the mouse, the fun with 3D printers and kids reading to dogs, and prizes and book clubs and author visits, all of them are marketing and sales, extras and dazzlements of the eye. They are good works for the overstocked librarians, and they make lovely public relations. And it is all an okay price to pay, maybe even a great price, a win-win price, but only so long as it does its job. Because all of it is mere clothes and fancies, funny hats and politics, but it is not the body. The body of the Library is and will always be books and a place, open to all. If I must, I'll even throw in all the movies and music and, yes, your stupid E-books and internets if you promise to be a little more careful with them. But this is the Library, untethered culture, curated knowledge and art, as much of it as wide open and as free and as good as we can get it. The rest, the rest is baubles, apocrypha, fan fiction.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


On Mermaid Avenue II, there is a song, lyrics by Woody Guthrie, music by Billy Bragg, that was never my favorite, but always arrested me and made me pay attention. I am repeatedly struck by its conceit, and it is that conceit, and Billy Bragg's expression of it, that, in the end, makes me kind of love it. The song is Meanest Man, and the conceit is that the singer would be an angry, cruel, terrible man if it weren't for nice people. He'd be a louse and a drunk if it weren't for his wife's kisses and people talking and letters from his friends. He sings it almost like he'd like to be that terrible person, but all these lovely people moor him to humanity, and over and over he is made better once again, by them.

I have been thinking about this song, and it has opened up a little window in the world. Through that window I see a vision of all of us who stand in this life with at least most of our realness in tact, who stand mostly unbroken, standing that way thanks to a series of people who have saved our lives. No gods, not nature, not even ourselves, all of that can be essential, some of it definitely is, but first we need that leg up, that catch, first our lives must be saved, saved by simple, on the ground, actual people. Nothing else will do.

If you are lucky, your parents may save your life, a sibling, a grandparent. Maybe some teacher will save your life along the way, and later the world opens up and, like Billy Bragg sings it, the life saving is all around you.

Surely, for me, there were little catches, moments, pieces of being saved, that let me hobble along; a cousin, a friend's mother, my sister's teacher, just enough to keep me from starving to death. But I was fully 15 years old before I met someone who wholly saved my life. There have been others since then, including the life saver who dwarfs all others, and has been saving my life daily for more than 20 years (see "wife's kisses"). But the first one, the unchangeable first one, who saved my life at age 15, was Grape.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to tell you who I was at age 15, hanging by a thread to the world, too clear eyed and hurt for me to convey here. But let it be enough to say that I was bitter and amazed and unable to walk that simple but unbearable path from myself to the world.

I had known Grape for some years in that way that you know all your classmates. I have some memory of being in a seventh grade English class with him, but there was nothing beyond that. Nothing until, early in tenth grade, he was suddenly friends with an old, fading best friend of mine, and, all at once, he was there, in my world. And he was dazzling. How he was to himself was no doubt very different, just a fifteen year old boy, really, but there, in my world, he was popular, and funny, and idiosyncratic. He was interesting, a seeker, brave and beautiful and part of the world, discovering things before or after or simultaneously with my own discoveries. Yes, essentially he liked me, perhaps even as much as I liked him, and that was life saving, to be able to be liked so much by a person I so passionately admired, but also he was like me. All unlike me, he was dazzling and easy and graceful in the world, woven into the world, so functional and seeming fearless, and yet he was also, soul to soul, vision to vision, like me, full of a resonating harmony and clear eyes and kindness that I could actually believe. Suddenly a bridge stood in the world. I could not walk on it yet, but I could see that there were ways across, from me to the world. And instead of one delicate thread connecting me, there were dozens of threads, his threads, and then others and they wound and wove together and were string, and eventually rope and I was able to pull into that connection, and I could begin the long fight to finding my way back. He gave me that. He gave me the world. He saved my life.

My friend Grape and I remain friends to this day. We have a rich history, and the adventures of our adolescence, and the adventures from the long, halting starts of our manhoods, seem terribly, almost painfully sweet in the nostalgia of it. Full adulthood, lived far apart from each other, and the changes of life in general, have done some fading on that friendship, but it stands true, some chord-ringing shared heart sounding underneath everything.

 Our birthdays fall quite close to each other, and we have always made some fuss, one way or the other, about them. Sometimes they have been grand, like our joint fortieth birthday party, and sometimes they have been a bit ragged, with late, rather desperate gifts. I have a couple of past their expiration date CDs to send him this year. I haven't sent them yet, even though today itself is his birthday. And he'll probably send me something eventually too, avocados maybe, half mashed in transit. It's nice, anything he sends, but it doesn't matter. He has already, long ago and through the years, given me an incalculable gift, and it rings out, through my life, and forever.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Careful what you wish for

If, when I was twelve years old and watching as much television as I possibly could, you were to ask me to devise improvements for that medium, I might have gamely attempted some ridiculous, fully impossible, revisions. Giving me a lot of credit, and, why not, since my twelve year old self could surely use some credit, I would have proposed thousands of channels, two way interactivity, a wild diversity of content, games, ever present, wildly diverse access, and an ability to instantly buy and get anything you see on your screen. I would have, remember the credit thing, roughly proposed, the internet! I would have proposed an impossible miracle, a folly, a wonder. And now here I am with this dream, right at my very fingertips, flooding my brain, and I find there is one thing I never, as a twelve year old, ever would have imagined in my wildest dreams. I would never have imagined, cynical as I may already have been, that it would be, after such a dazzling transmutation of improvements and complexities, so much like, well, TV.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it, as with most things in our culture over the past 35 years, like TV, but so much bigger, and with better marketing. It is TV made gigantic, with us even more deeply wound in, and it thus become impervious in its massivity, untouchable and touching everything, like some horrible and glorious fungus, or virus, beribboning every aspect of our our commerce, our art, our communication, our lives, with the treads of it running from here to the end of the universe. Non operative cancer also comes to mind, or water. Our culture is infused with it so deeply that to extract it now seems impossible. We cannot remove the tumor without destroying the vital organs. To fight this, to rail against this is to rail against our very selves. It is us.

And yet, let's look deep into the heart of this gigantic tumorous virus that we now are. Let's trace those googleplexes of profound and useful and parasitical threads back to its nascent core, it's original, forgotten nucleus, the humble television, the first glowing screen we faced alone and lost ourselves to. A soul sucking device, a time waster, the boob tube, the idiot box. Despite watching that glowing box for hours, addicted, I was aware of its poison, not least because the culture itself seemed aware of it too. And I fought it, like everyone worth anything, I fought the insidious hold of that box. Sometimes I won and sometimes I lost. So when I say that the internet is just TV, writ large, it isn't primarily about those almost superficial similarities; the glowing screen, the communication device, the endless luring chain of self-selling entertainments, rather it is primarily that very feeling of wasted time and uselessness, addiction, manipulability, hard core meaninglessness and fake engagement that yokes them, that says, these, in the end, are the same. They are so psychologically, so functionally, the same in me.

I have written my pieces on the absurd futility of railing against something on and with the very thing one is railing against. And I'd be tilting at windmills anyway, even were my screeds instead appearing in some rare place, innocent and free of the internet, and yet still well published and well read. Even a lance against windmills seems to undersell my predicament. We are speaking of the mighty, the vaunted, the everything INTERNET, dazzling every bit of us.  But yes, fine, I admit that I am once again your lone correspondent, Don Quixote, screaming at monsters. It is so. I am a crazy writer who can't even entirely mean it, bound as I am, even as I speak, deep into the very expressions of this beast. I at once create it and fling my body against it in futility. It is a bit of a sad madness. Take pity. Maybe everyone can just humor me a little. Hide your phones when I am near. Stop talking about how great the internet is. A pejorative nickname would be nice too. The apocalypse box? The great nothing? The hall of mirrors? Two way TV? Pretty much anything would help. And when you tell me about some brilliant blogger you found, reading your way in this hall of mirrors, on your two way TV, say maybe "I was murdering my life on the Internet, on the apocalypse box, last night, clicking on nothing, but I did stumble on an extraordinary, genius blog of mass criticism, memoir, and attention that I thought you might like,"

"I write that blog." I will say with a mixed pride "And I am sorry."

Monday, October 21, 2013

New People

We have two new staff members. As is common for my Library they are refugees from other branches. Among the Circulation staff there are very few of us who are native to this, the giant, branch in the system. When I experience pride over my co workers it is because we are a rough bunch, with a streak of displacement, malcontentment, and independence. The little Libraries couldn't hold us. Nevertheless, the transition to this large, busy branch can still be a complicated one, and the process of assimilation is strange and challenging.

When I expounded the following analogy to Dave, he characterized it as disgusting, which it kind of is, but there was a certain warm pleasure in his voice, which is part of why we get along.

My Library is like a giant stomach, and when the new people come in, we only have so long to digest them into working the way we want them to, into being the kind of co-workers we want them to be, before they become part of the stomach, and thus become part of who we are.

Our manager shows them around and tells them some random assortment of duties and rules they should know. Those rules are fine, and the new people need to know them. But there are easily twice as many secret rules, and I convey, in the natural scheme of things, as many as I can to the new people. And then, sometimes in a day, sometimes in a few months, it's over, and they are just, for good or ill, us.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cartoon Sunday

For my regular readers, let's just pretend that every Sunday is cartoon day on the blog. I mean, if that's okay with you. Would you like some hot cocoa? For today's cartoon I drew a political cartoon. I think it's a political cartoon. Are they supposed to be funny?

If you are new to clerkmanifesto, how on earth did you get in? I thought we hid the door! Well, you're here, no harm done. Pull the chair up to the fireplace and I'll go make you a drink. You have a lot of reading to- oh- no- wait, today is cartoon day. We have cartoon day every Sunday. This'll just take you a few seconds.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wot I Learned: In Service Day

I approached this year's Fall In Service day with a touch of jaundice in my anticipation. To start small, the day itself works badly as a reorganization of my personal schedule. Also I had a mysterious presentiment about the bagels. Furthermore, as a Clerk of the People, I take it hard when we close the Library to those heartbreaking and heartbroken masses. But, perhaps most of all, the schedule of events for the day was seriously unappealing. The keynote for the day was a long, all staff session with the Sheriffs Department to learn about mass shootings in the workplace. I looked up the odds of a mass shooting in the Library and decided that the session should have been on what to do if you, or one of your co-workers, are chosen to be the All Powerful Ruler of the Universe, as this event is at once slightly more likely, and vastly more entertaining to anticipate, than a mass shooting.

To my surprise I learned a great deal during the day. Unfortunately it did not have anything to do with any of the things I was supposed to learn from the day. But isn't the learning the key thing? I think so, and that's why I will now share with you the things I learned from this year's In Service Day.

1. Get to the bagels early, and if you want more than half of one, grab spares and shove them in your pockets.

2. If a bag of nuts with a grade higher than "Peanut" appears on the food table, you should seize it immediately and act as if you just won the Miss America Pageant.

3. The Administration office staff, responsible for providing the In Service Day food, secretly hates us all.

4. More people around my Library System read my blog than I think. They vastly prefer it in written, rather than spoken, form.

5. The librarians know of a strange labyrinth of warrens that honeycomb my Library.

6. The moment that there is nowhere anyone has to be, and all work is optional at my Library, it becomes a ghost town, empty, with tumbleweeds blowing through, and I stand alone in the entire, huge Library having paranoid feelings that there is some fabulous secret staff party I have not been invited to. I make friends with the Library cactus.

7. In staff meetings there is a minutely detailed, invisible wall surrounding all ideas for improvements that is defined by resistance to change, your three worst co-workers, the places that your supervisors have detached from reality, and your personal megalomania.

8. As observable from our upstairs windows, many of our regular patrons believe carpool or vanpool means one or more persons in a car or van, and that the cut off for energy efficient vehicles is seven mpg or better.

Friday, October 18, 2013

James Dashner is not weird

A little while ago I met, and heard speak, best selling YA author James Dashner at my Library. He wrote The Maze Runner, which is having a movie made of it, or, it turns out it is sort of made, but delayed because it got more money to have better effects put in it. I have written two silly posts about this visit and now offer a slightly less silly one to round out my trilogy. I'm not sure if any blog post can not be silly, but I'll do my best to work my way to that end of the spectrum. It might be the name: blog post, blaahhg post. Can you see my throat? I still have my tonsils. I wouldn't dare write blaaahg posts if I didn't have my taaahnsils!

Right, right, serious. More Sophisticated Miniature Essay than mere blog post.

James Dashner seemed nice enough. He was friendly. He connected well with his audience and the many young readers therein. He seemed like a real "Guy". He liked guy things. He was nerdy, by his own definition, so no sports talk, but on the acceptably nerdy side of the spectrum. Nothing too Japanese, or esoteric, or unadmired entered into it. He liked The Matrix and Inception. He liked Lord of the Rings, Narnia. He was interested in video games but did not linger for a moment on that.  He liked modern television, I don't remember what shows, maybe Dexter, Breaking Bad?, and he used the phrase "I think we are in a Golden Age of Television."

And though I kind of hate the whole "Golden Age of Television" part for its generic and received quality, all of it is okay. People like what they like. I even love some of those same things he loves too. 

But, nevertheless, I find I am even less interested in reading his books than I was before I met him or heard him speak. The reason is because there was nothing odd about James Dashner. Everything fit. Everything fit perfectly. There was no texture. No quirk. No mania, no obsession with Pez dispensers or Ballet or strange shoes or Claes Oldenburg sculptures or 60's Sitcoms. Two hours and there was not one single ill-advised (in a good way or even a we're-not-sure way) moment. All of his taste and references came from one single and fully mapped cosmology of guydom and so were frictionless and could produce no heat. Alchemy requires the merging of disparate parts and their untried collisions. And so while I have nothing against him, and I certainly will not refuse to read his books, I don't really trust such a writer, with such placid and perfect and uniform inspirations. It makes it so hard to imagine how there could be any magic, any real magic, in what he does.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sorry Lovely Bones Fans

Yesterday I was talking about my experience reading the essays of acclaimed critic Daniel Mendelsohn. I learned something right away reading his book: I am one bloodthirsty reader!

I think it was the first essay in his book, or at least the first one I read, where he starts talking about the Alice Sebold book The Lovely Bones. His opening gambit was a description of the wide acclaim it received upon publication, the To Kill a Mockingbird comparison reviews, and its astonishing sales numbers. He also talked about its Amazon reviews as an indication of how well read it was. Because Mr. Mendelsohn's essay is a bit older now I have idly hopped over to check those review numbers out.

How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken (from which this essay I'm talking about is drawn) by Daniel Mendelsohn, has ten reviews (4.5 stars avg.)

Dear Life: Stories by (newly minted Nobel Laureate) Alice Munro, has 205 reviews (by far her most, 4 star avg.)

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, has 3,476 reviews (4 star avg.)

I don't know why I just did that whole breakdown of Amazon reviews for you. But it certainly makes his point; people were reading the binding off this book- though I don't think Daniel Mendelsohn would ever say "people were reading the binding off this book"- and more power to him. I wouldn't say that either!

Anyway, there I am reading this introduction and every last bit of my readerly self is half consciously thinking "Please hate this book. Please say this book is terrible. Please irrefutably tear this book apart into minute pieces."

Yes, I have read The Lovely Bones. I don't remember even having a conscious reaction to it. I read it, probably didn't think very well of it, and was done. But when Daniel Mendelsohn started to talk about it it tapped into some real sense that there was something very wrong with that book. I did not like it, and I was very hopeful that I was about to have some half forgotten whisper of a feeling, my forgotten sense of disaccord, showered with justification.

The object of this essay is not to restate Daniel Mendelsohn's critique of The Lovely Bones. You would have to read it for yourself. But I would describe his deep criticism of The Lovely Bones as so thorough, intelligent and self contained as to leave only one line of defense to the people who have sung The Lovely Bones praises: "I just liked it" probably mumbled. Anything else would look silly.

The funny thing is "I just liked it" is fine. It's just if, say, someone prefers the 79 cent cappuccino at SuperAmerica to the best cappuccino our cities have to offer (Kopplin's, $3.50) what can a person say to that?

Well, if you're Daniel Mendelsohn, a lot. And it's very interesting.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Writing is not hard work if you keep it to two paragraphs!

To my surprise I recently picked up a book of critical essays and started reading them. These are very smart and insightful essays by a writer who uses language like it's a vast array of surgical instruments, each with a detailed purpose he has mastered. Because I write I have become more attuned to the process and so occasionally recognize one of these surgical instruments and get all excited and smart feeling that I do. Most of the time though I'm baffled by them, or understand that I would have to read a lot of Ancient Greek Poetry to use one of these tools without causing my sentences to start bursting forth with blood.

The writer is Daniel Mendelsohn. He has written several books and writes a lot for The New York Review of Books. I wonder if they let him review his own books in The New York Review of Books? I would like to see him review one and tear it precisely to shreds. It would be fascinating. But my guess is that he would be okay with his own books, not because he is self serving, rather because he is a person who works things out carefully and thoroughly. You need pointless scraps and hanging threads to get the grip to tear things apart. Good luck with that on one of his shiny marble essays. Lately I am reading a lot of very good essays and often end up thinking "These people are working really hard." I don't want to work that hard. The fact that this is the end of my essay is my confession of that alone.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blog Nirvana

"Hey," one of my readers asks "What's the deal? I read your blog and it's pretty good: clever post, funny post, thoughtful post, post that makes me teary, silly post, quiet musing post, then, Bam! There's suddenly a post like 'Fungal infections mid leg in the modern beetle', or 'My thoughts on mass produced wicker.' What's going on?"

These are called, in blogger's parlance "Stoppers" and there is a very important ethical reason for them. If a person stumbles on the homepage of a long running blog, starts reading, and likes what they see, there is little to stop them from scrolling down through the history of that blog, reading with increased feverish addiction as they go. That one-more-before-sleep compulsion keeps them glued to their chair, staring at a computer, device, or phone, for hours and hours, causing muscle cramps and seizures, urinary tract infections, and a little know or understood condition called Retinal Erosion Festering, which is every bit as bad as it sounds. This is why most ethical bloggers (and many bloggers are ethical) regularly insert into their blogs an occasional post that is full of bizarre information and thick, gelatinous prose. This serves as a break on compulsive reading and allows an obsessed, chain reader, to be reacquainted with the physical world. Reading suddenly about mass produced wicker makes them suddenly realize "Hey, I have to go to the bathroom!" and "Why are these crabs eating my feet?"

Unfortunately, like some safety measures designed to help rare, but severe, situations, there can be an inconvenience involved for the rest of us. The obvious one is that if you are a moderate, temperate reader, of this blog for instance, a "Stopper" post is merely a tedious inconvenience in your well-regulated reading. You rely on entertainment and edification and suddenly you find yourself trapped in quicksand like nonsense. When this happens, like now for example, say to yourself "I may be saving a life!" And that's just it. You may be saving a life indeed.

There is one other important problem with these "Stopper" posts. As they are common bailout locations for people reading blogs, the departure point as people leave blogs, search engines register them as high traffic locations on the internet. This brings these posts much higher in search engine results, causing more people to visit them, resulting in even higher places in search engine results. So when you go out looking for interesting blogs to read you will invariably be linked to non representative, boring, obtuse, and generally awful bits of writing. Sadly you will end up thinking there are not very many good blogs out there, indeed, that good blogs are profoundly rare, little realizing that what you are encountering is more likely an altruistic bluff, probably by some brilliant and fascinating prose stylist, who is throwing their writing on a sword to protect innocent internet surfers. So if you are out on the internet, looking for fascinating blogs of an independent and unique nature, and you encounter some bizarre nonsense like, well, this, for instance, you might want to click on the blog title to go to the home page and try another post. Below what seems to be rank madness may lurk blog nirvana.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cell phone ringtones

I don't have a cell phone because I cherish and hold fast to my outmoded idea that it makes people look insane. Also, I quite dislike talking to people on the phone. Can't they just pop over to the library if they want to talk to me? I'm here, like, half the time! Nevertheless I started musing upon what ringtone I would like if I did have a cell phone. I don't know why I started musing on this, but, as a daily blogger, musing on pretty much anything mainlines right into a blog post. And here we are. This is that blog post!

So here is my list of ringtones for my phone. Can I just have them go off as kind of random choice ringtones? You plethora of cell phone users out there would have to advise on that. Maybe I can skip the phone and just get a little speaker that periodically plays these ringtone sounds from my pocket.

1. Help, I'm trapped in this guy's pocket! Help, I'm trapped in this guy's pocket! Help, I'm trapped in this guy's pocket!

2. (Sound of toaster springing up toast, followed by extended sequence of the frothing of milk)

3. Hi! It's me! I'm in my car and should be there in (Horrific sound of massive car accident).

4. (Sad defeatist voice saying) Oh, it's just me, don't bother answering. I don't have anything worth saying anyway.

5. (Generic musical ringtone that accelerates in speed, hits a high pitched screech, and ends in an electrically fizzy pop of self destruction)

6. (Alarmingly loud) I'm in the Library! I'm in the Library! I'm in the Library! I'm in the Library! I'm in the Library! I'm in the Library! I'm in the Library! I'm in the Library! I'm in the Library! I'm in the Library! I'm in the Library! (Never ever turned off).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Live Blogging James Dashner at the Library

My Library stayed open late to host Young Adult author James Dashner. No, he is not a Young Adult, more he is writing for an audience mainly considered to be Young Adult, or teen. James Dashner is, like, fortyish, and a best selling author whose novel The Maze Runner is being made into a movie. I have no more to say about him by way of introduction, but did scrawl the following picture during his talk:

I live blogged the event on a series of barely coherent post it notes which were translated/photographed into tweets from the account of the other teen librarian who is not Marcus. The following are my post it notes as they happened, transcribed without alteration or editing from those post it notes. How is this live blogging? It isn't. It is Art. And in art we lie to tell the truth, thus, this is live blogging!

I present the text of the notes numbered, but otherwise, as I said, unaltered.

Blogging commenced upon the arrival of Mr. Dashner:

1. Said to James Dashner: If you need anything from the Vending Machine, just break it. He laughed politely.

2. James Dashner at the Library not all about me, but I am trying hard to make it that way.

3. James Dashner said to me! "If I worked at a Library this is the Library I'd want to work at."

4. When James Dashner said he'd work at this Library I said if I wrote books I would write his books. Oh how we laughed.

5. Pressure from fawning over famous person too much, left room awkwardly.

6. Teen Librarian approves of crowd size. Doubt that Random House does.

7. Never thought about name "Random" House. So... they just collect all submissions in huge pile and... pick one?

8. James Dashner walked through on way to lecture, seemed to have forgotten our new friendship :(

9. James Dashner asks crowd of 107 Has anyone started my new book? I get to raise my hand having read 1st paragraph of Marcus's copy!

10. James Dashner talking, am distracted by weird impulse to sign a bald man's head.

11. Ability to listen to James Dashner further eroded by incoming people making me feel trapped in room!

12. James Dashner seems nice but MUST GET OUT OF ROOM!

13. At James Dashner: NO WAY OUT, Paths appear open then close up, need oxygen, night falling.

14. "Publishers... they're really evil people."  -James Dashner

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Alice Munro and James Dashner place One-Two in exciting Nobel Prize finish!

As I write these words my Library is soon to host Maze Runner novelist James Dashner. I will live blog this special evening event, except the live blogging will, as per this blog's tradition, be done on post it notes, and transcribed to the blog only after it's all old news. Why do I do it this way? Because I believe news is like cheese.

Still, James Dashner at our Library! Not only is there the glossiest poster I have ever seen in my Library, announcing this very event, and not only are they making a genuine movie out of his book, but, word in the literary community is that he finished a close second to Alice Munro for this years Nobel Prize for literature. Not many people thought he had a chance, but those literature lovers were looking in the wrong place. They were looking at literary quality and stature, and yet the place to look, for any prize, is at who the people are on the voting committee, or, in this case, who are the 18 members of The Swedish Academy. Those of us with loads of Swedish connections were aware that there are seven new members of The Swedish Academy and five of them, yes, five of them, are under 16 years of age. There are two 13 year old boys, a 15 year old boy and girl, and one six year old boy, which explains to a lot of people how Mo Willems got a vote this year. Well, out of the mouths of babes, because Mo Willems, author of the Elephant and Piggie books, would have been a superb Nobel Prize Laureate. But I suppose if the Swedes themselves couldn't be bothered to give Astrid Lindgren the Nobel Prize for Literature it's hardly happening for Mo Willems. Well, Dr. Seuss never won a Caldecott, and Meryl Streep has yet to win an academy award.

My point? Well, I don't have one. It was a fishing trip for greatness that went horribly awry.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Nobel Prize

Well, another Nobel Prize for Literature has come and gone again and I didn't get it. And before you ask, no, I am not bitter. Those fuddy duddys in Sweden were never going to pick an obscure library clerk blogger, even if he's a way better writer than Alice Munro. Which, I am not saying I am, because I am sure Alice Munro is a very fine writer and I look forward to reading more tiny pieces of her books while shelving in the fiction section. I'm just happy for the Canadians. Their only other Literature prize winner is Saul Bellow, who moved to Chicago when he was nine, presumably because he hated Canadians. I think the Nobel Committee was looking to redress this old wound and repair their Canadian relations. It's all politics really, mostly so the Swedes can put maple syrup on their pancakes like the rest of us, instead of lingonberries, which is why I'm fine with this Alice Munro choice. I'm above all this stuff and don't need their 1.2 million dollars anyway, which I would only squander on helping people, poor, disadvantaged and oppressed people. I didn't get the peace prize this year either, but I have this theory they're saving up for a trifecta. Come 2014 look for me to sweep the Literature, Peace, and Physics prizes. You heard it here first.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Readers advisory

Not being a fully licensed and tattooed librarian I nevertheless find myself doing a good deal of traditional, straight up reference work. I do not shirk this now quite common duty. In the first place, I am for the most part good at it. In the second place, sending people to the appropriate desk, due to the vagaries of lines and the notable distance between the service desks at my Library, generally falls under the category of patron torture. I only very, very rarely believe in patron torture. Lastly, I like this reference work, so I do it.

The vast majority of the reference work I do is direct, verifiable, and easy to be confident of. But there is one aspect of reference that I find murky, smoky, and open for a lot of interpretation. That is readers advisory. Not only is suggesting books a profoundly inexact science, but so often, when I am asked for suggestions, I am far removed from many of my best tools. I am usually asked for reading suggestions while shelving, distantly removed from computers and other people, and thus reliant purely on what I can happen to dredge up on the spot.

The first thing I do when I am asked for a suggestion is try to find out what the person asking has liked in the past. One has to have at least a general idea of the type of things people like in order to steer them to something they might, when face to face with it, actually want to read. If someone is a hardcore blood and guts fantasy reader, then In Watermelon Sugar might be a brilliant and twisted suggestion for them, but only if they'll read it, which I don't think they're going to do. Unfortunately, when I do ask what these people like, they invariably come back with a list of authors I don't like. This is where I get thrown off. Somehow it makes me get all librariany and official. They like Sandford and William Kent Krueger? Well, I have heard tell that people who like them also like Harlan Coben and Lee Child. I don't know what I'm talking about and I don't care because I don't care about those authors. The fact is that I don't care what the large system of recommendations says, and what I have realized is that those recommendation lists have never worked for me anyway. Any version of any "If you liked this try that" website or listing or program I always end up either hating or completely uninspired by. I believe my distaste for these things stems from their being powered by groupings and numbers and aggregations. You like the Beatles? You might like the Rolling Stones, so obvious as to be banal, but never powered by feverish passion. I don't want those lame and joyless recommendations. I want "You like Dick Francis? Well, sorry, there is nothing really like Dick Francis. We must accept it. Try the Horatio Hornblower books." I want insouciance and inspiration and adventure!

So here is what I resolve. I have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books, spanning every genre, age range, general subject, and level of literary respectability, that I would recommend with overwhelming fanaticism. That's it. That's my list. I will find, request, shelve, and seek to acquire for people whatever they want, but I will no longer recommend anything not on my list. When someone asks what fantasy I recommend I will not take it to mean that they want to know what books in that genre are popular. No, I will pick the closest thing on my list of odd, acclaimed, and unacclaimed masterpieces to what the patron is asking for. They didn't ask me for some dead list. I will give them my recommendation. And I will be excited at the very thought of them reading it. They are in for a treat.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Reading as virtue

Working all these years at a Library I have experienced many a comment and reference to the idea of reading as ennobling and virtuous. And though I am strongly pulled by the desire to fawn over you for reading this, sing your virtues for struggling through my illuminating and visionary prose to elevate your humanity, I have some hesitations. It might have something to do with all these years spent in the thick of a very busy public library. My overwhelming impression, standing in the heart of this maelstrom of reading, is not one of Profound enricher of Humanity but more of the Circus part of Bread and Circuses. Even if we're talking about Proust, we are just talking about stories, which are basically entertainment. I'm not saying it's a waste of time, or worthless, or even not wonderful, but I do think the whole reading thing may have suffered a bit from having a cadre of the most eloquent, articulate, and beautifully spoken people in the history of the universe constantly shilling for it. Writers. And I think these writer people have been just a touch over invested in reading's stock. So we've all gotten a bit puffed up over it.  I see it all the time at the front desk. Someone proudly coming to check out a few books, presenting me with a little speech about loving books and how no one understands how essential they are anymore. "If only more people would read!" They exclaim, tsking at others and bathing in the beatific glow of their readerliness. I nod politely. I hope they enjoy their Swann's Way or, more likely, LaVyrle Spencer books or Post Apocalyptic Zombie Detective Story. Why shouldn't they. Stories are blood. Stories are essential. Stories make us human! Which, I am sorry to say, is a very good reason for tempering our pride.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

One about making sense

Tom Clancy died, so it was easy and even likely, if one frolicked on the internet long enough, to run into this quote by him:

The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.

I did frolic on the internet and did read that quote. I thought it was a pretty snappy quote for a writer I bore no great respect for. Did I need to revise my opinions? Are Tom Clancy novels packed with pithy insights stored neatly amongst the military hardware? I decided to research. Oh no, not by reading Tom Clancy novels. My blog is on a very tight schedule. Even if those Clancy novels move adroitly along from one submarine chase to another they're still absolute bricks.  I read quotes.

 Leo Rosten:

Truth is stranger than fiction; fiction has to make sense.


Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.

And finally, Mark Twain said:

The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.

We have a hit! We have a hit! Man your battle stations! Full power aft!

So, did I just come here today to mock and criticize a guy who just died? 

Well, when you ask it like that, um, no, god, why would I do that? I came here to make some really important point. Probably. Just let me think for a second. I can't think with all this pressure! 

Okay, I thought of one. Or, um, here's the one I had all along. Thanks for your patience. 

My point is that I don't think the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense. And I thought it might appear easy and churlish just to disagree with Tom Clancy. So instead I disagree with Mark Twain, Emerson, and Leo Rosten, which is not, generally speaking, some great recipe for wisdom. Nevertheless, yes, I disagree.

I think fiction works, and really all art, because of the overwhelming human compulsion to make sense of things. One might even say we are compelled to impose sense. The novelist does it, the reader of the novelist does it to the novel, and the blogger does it to the reader of the novelist reading the novel. And we do it to life. We do it with all our Gods and for the bests and with our interpretations of the world around us. We are inveterate creators of sense. Life and fiction stand shoulder to shoulder here. Life makes about as much sense as fiction and most of it's in the interpretation.

As Dr. Seuss said:

No matter what you do, somebody always imputes meaning into your books.

Or, as I might put it:

No matter what one does, someone always imputes meaning into books. 

Let it be my epitaph. I thought of it myself.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Give them what they want

No one has ever come to me at the front desk of my Library and ordered a corned beef sandwich, don't be shy about the mustard. Requests for obscure bits of a/v technology are about as exciting as requests for things we don't have gets, which is to say, not very exciting. "Do you check out slide projectors?" No. The request itself is far less odd than the decade in which it is happening. The other day someone asked if we had any typewriters. We never have had, but I used to hear that occasionally, almost regularly. However, at the time of this recent inquiry it had been so long since anyone asked for a typewriter that I hugged the patron, weeping, and started to sing Auld Lang Syne. 

The great majority of things people ask me for, that we don't have, are office related. We seem to have several hundred staplers up at the front desk, but no three hole punch. If you ask me for a paper cutter you're also completely out of luck. No cutting and punching of paper at my Library! There has always been in me the slightest, unexpressed, deep down touch of irritation when people ask me for these office services and supplies we don't have. "Do you have a fax machine?" I have heard that question a thousand times. I'm reasonably nice about it and try to offer helpful alternatives, but also I am thinking, almost unconsciously "Why would we have a fax machine, we're a Library!" What are these people doing coming to the Library to fax? We don't have a fax. And though we do have copiers, why on earth would they come to us for some complicated copy job. We certainly do not charge less than well equipped, vastly more full service stores. Enough already.

And then, one day recently, like the Grinch, when he was hanging on that precipice, poised for disaster, my heart suddenly grew. It grew three sizes.

What is a Library? If we think clearly and bravely, and our hearts are in the right place, a Library is half what we, the Library, say it is and what we can make it be. The other half of what a Library is is what the Library users want and expect it to be. If they're coming in every day going on about wanting corned beef sandwiches we should be thinking about how and why we might be able to and want to provide them, not doing that whole "Ugh! Patrons! This place would be perfect without them" thing. But they don't want corned beef sandwiches, they want a fax machine.

When did my heart grow three sizes? I think it was when I was at an office supply store with my wife. She was looking for something. I was dawdling, looking at things in a desultory manner when my eye landed upon a display of fax machines. They were $60. Sixty dollars! I had told a thousand people we couldn't help them because we didn't have something that cost less than three James Patterson novels. I had sent them off to pay $1.50 a page at some Fed Ex Kinkos because we didn't have a fax machine! With my new big heart I suddenly just felt bad for all those people.

Not long ago a person who works in a different Library system than my own was in and asked if we had a fax machine. When I gave her the rundown about how we didn't, she said, with a touch of awe "How do you get away with that?" The implication is that having a fax is really irritating. I am well enough acquainted with all the printers and projectors and computers and copiers to understand that a fax machine would be an additional, small, but irritating task. But like any person working in a Library who actually cares, any number of glitches and paper jams will be less irritating than saying "No." Because saying no, unjustified, is the most irritating task of them all.