Saturday, November 30, 2013

The maturation of kafka

As kafka the Library cat bursts quickly through his weeks of adolescence, I can only conclude he is turning out very well. He is going to be, already really is, an excellent cat. Protected and domestic, he has his cuddly moments. He makes friends selectively, but easily (to become kafka's friend you need only to patiently desire with your whole being to be his friend. This technique works splendidly with most cats). He is fluidly at home in the Library and has developed the curious and enchanting habit of curling up with thick paperbacks clutched in his arms. This at least must partly explain his preference for the Sci Fi/Fantasy section which is full of these books that are thicker than they are wide. He purrs gently and often, is easily amused, and thoroughly self entertaining. But in addition to all his civilized qualities, kafka is also the wild animal of the stacks. He is a hunter and a prowler. The one pure beast among us. As the only touch of wilderness in the most civilized of all places, a Library, kafka is like a small oasis pond in a great, vast desert. Perhaps this is why so many patrons at first think he is an illusion.

"I could have sworn I saw a cat in here." They say to me. "Is there actually a cat in this Library?"

"How would you feel if there were a cat in this Library?" I ask back. 


"Excellent." I say. "Join the club."

Friday, November 29, 2013

The seven indicators that your phone call is never going to end

I love working with the public. In the context of helping them as a Library employee I find them entertaining, endearing, and interesting, albeit all in a sort of heartbreaking way. But just because I like helping people generally, or like helping most people, most of the time, doesn't mean that there aren't some people who are absolutely excruciating. The most prominent among this excruciating group are not, to me, the angry, belligerent people, but rather the slow, relentless, gentle people who only want to suck you into their world, in anyway they can, and keep you there until you suffocate or starve to death, at which point they will hang up and call someone else to pursue their never ending quest for destruction.

Because these people are stealthy, and, even at times, friendly seeming, I thought I'd give you some tips so you can spot them in your dealings. As they tend to be heavy phone users I have centered my identifying tips there. Once you have spotted one of these people you must do everything in your power to get away from them. Just how to do this almost impossible task must remain now a discussion for another time. Here we are discussing:

The seven indicators that your phone call is never going to end

1. They start with a pointless, irrelevant or unanswerable question.
You: "Good afternoon, this is the Lilyville Public Library."
Them: "Hello. Good afternoon to you. Is this the Library?"
This is a fine example. Also they may ask "Can you help me?" or "Can I ask you a question?" for an opener.

2. The cadence of their speaking is noticeably slow.
This is to get you to psychically lean towards them. They will then try to exploit this advantage to cause you to topple forward into their pit of endlessness, where you will spend all of eternity. Their slow cadence also makes the call last longer, which is one of their fundamental goals.

3. They act as if they have thoroughly prepared for the phone call, but are actually scrupulously unprepared.
"I have 11 books and two DVDs I'd like you to renew for me as they are due tomorrow...oh, you need my Library card?... Could you read the names of all the items I have out, and I'll tell you which? Some might be on my granddaughter's card. Oh, wait, this is the wrong card. Let's go look for my card."

4. They narrate meaningless details.
"Oh, you need my library card? My library card is very precious to me so I keep it in my special wallet. I am opening the wallet now. It has a red rubber band around it. The red rubber band is very tight and I'm trying to get it off now. I think it is the fifth, no, sixth card here..."  This is an attempt to hypnotize you and to turn a ten second task into a bad, joint reading of James Joyce's Ulysses.

5. They tell you long, irrelevant stories as if they are an intrinsic part of the process.
"Can you renew False Mermaid for me as well? My daughter wanted to read it, but her knee swelled up so badly that we had to go to the urgent care where her cousin Pearl works. Pearl's mother is my sister Cheryl who passed away seven years ago now. God rest her soul. She wasn't a very nice woman. But my daughter would still really like to read it if she could..."

6. They exploit your errors.
It is your job to give complete information. When they ask if there is a way to see a list of all fiction writers of Italian descent who ever published a book, and you say anything other than "No." like "No, I mean, you would have to do searches of Italian authors, come up with multiple lists and then search each of their collections of books. Even then it would be very partial and incredibly incomplete." They will seize any scrap in your comment as a reasonable pursuit in their unreasonable question. "Oh, could you do that then?" Will invariably be their response. Your impulse towards full disclosure will be used against you.

7. They will fake wrap it up, but their last question is never their last question. It is merely a ray of hope that they hold out to squash and darken.
"You have been so kind and helpful. Can I ask just one last question? You've been so patient and kind. Yes? Are you open this Friday? Oh, really? Are you always open Fridays? If I come in Friday could you set aside False Mermaid for me?  My daughter would really like to read it. Can you tell me the due dates for all my items again? No, on the other card. Do you need it again? Oh, I've wrapped it back in its red rubber band. Let's undo it." And so on. And so on. And so on.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


I am not one for much celebrating of Thanksgiving. I am happy enough and quite thankful for any day I can spend at home with my wife. This will be great enough pleasure for me. Whatever turkeys roam about my neighborhood (and there are, oddly, a few) they need fear nothing from me.

But because it is Thanksgiving, and because I write so much about my Library, I started thinking a little bit this week about what I am thankful about at my Library.

There are many things I am unthankful for. There are so many complaints and irritations at my job, nice, deep, rich veins of folly, destructive hierarchy, self satisfactions, and complacency at my Library. And I am delighted to mine away at them. They are an endless source of blog material and correction and comedy, all that buried garbage of a Library at work, brought up out of the earth and set shining like jewels in the sun, if I can. But when I sit down to reflect on what I am grateful for here at the Library, well, not to get all mushy, there is no mining required. It is all around me, everywhere, and in plain sight.

It is not the purview of this quiet, holiday post to make some great list of my Library appreciations. It is not so interesting to me as a study, and I have no need to see for myself such a list either. But unbidden, I started thinking that list, and it was long and easily at hand, as are so many other things in my life for which I am grateful, and one person, for whom I am infinitely more thankful even than all the rest. And so you will hear no complaint from me today. No proposition for improvement. No tale of woe. No satire, visions, or fabrications. I am content as is, and even if, possibly, likely, there is no greater being out there to hear my exclamations of appreciation, I am entirely satisfied to tell you, and myself, and to shout it to the wind and let it fly and scatter.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The one thing you cannot say on the internet

Perhaps it would be best if you think of this like a Zen Koan.

In all the internet, full of its hucksters, glory hounds, relentless and massive corporations seizing everything they can, amidst its endless, backwater, obscure dead ends, its trillions and trillions of shopping opportunities that are thicker than all the stars in the sky, its Greek Choruses, its ranks of silent watchers, and, perhaps most of all, it's millions of lost souls shouting their opinions at the tops of their lungs, there is one thing, and one thing only that stands unspoken. There is one thing that can never be spoken on all the internet, wherever it may be.

It is not an issue of sanctity. Not talent, respect nor fear. It simply cannot be spoken. It is an object of its nature. I would say it here if I could. Any number of commentators, bloggers, opinion makers and full time internet egomaniacs would do much to be the one to say it. There are people who would sacrifice everything to say it. Many have tried and fallen, forced back to screaming about politics or the best chocolate cake or the funny thing they saw that you saw too that everyone saw and loved and will forget forever, in a day, or an hour, or immediately. It would have been said if it were possible. It is not possible.

It has been said that the Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. Shall we say that this is like the eternal Tao? Yes, we will say it is like the eternal Tao, but only so long as we can have the caveat that this is less spiritual, less grand, and vastly more trivial. Nevertheless it should also be said that it does manage to steal its own tiny, tiny piece of eternal wisdom.

And so what can you do with this one thing, this last and only thing that cannot be said on the internet. It cannot be named here. Perhaps it cannot be named anywhere. But it does exist. If you spread your imagination wide enough, you can, with the lightest touch, hold it in your hands. You can, with grace and wisdom, wit and a light touch, carry it in your mind. You will not be able to look at it directly or it will disappear like it never was there. But keep it with you. It has a purpose. Let it color everything you see here. The shadow it casts is an illuminating shadow.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How to be funny in public

Have you longed to be a comedian about town, a nut, a fool, a secret font of wisdom, hilarious? That is, do you want to be funny? I advise against it. It's a long, hard, cold road. Fraught with perils, it can be dangerous and nerve wracking. But if you reject my first advice I won't abandon you. If you just have to make people laugh, if the comedian persona has clutched you in its ferocious paws, I say "Go for it!" Clearly you have no choice. But heed my advice below.

1. Set jokes will be your doom. My father used to ask all grocery store cashiers if they took Rubles. I heard that joke thousands of times. Was it new to each cashier? Mostly. Was it a bad joke? No, no, it's fine as a joke for our purposes. Did he perfect it through such intensive repetition? Perhaps. But still I must speak against it. You cannot keep running the same material without becoming complacent, unnatural. You've got to stay hungry, and you must always be testing new material or you won't notice it when people start humoring you all of the time instead of just some of the time.

2. Know your audience. Professional comedians complain about tough audiences, but I laugh at professional comedians! Their audience is made up of a specific sub group of people who at least theoretically like comedians and are even willing to pay to see them. Your audience is anyone! Anyone! Sure, some of them are up for a laugh, but some of them are easily insulted, some of them have almost no sense of humor, and some of them don't even know what to do when a joke happens and will stare at you, bewildered. You will need to instant read your audience. You will need to pitch jokes to their level (which you had to deduce only a second ago). You will need to adjust your level of daring to their level of daring (all jokes are daring, which means they can also, in the wrong context, end up as mean, offensive, disturbing, and/or inappropriate). And you may even need to guide them along in receiving your joke properly, perhaps with a twinkle or a chuckle that lets them know that, no, the director of your Library doesn't actually fly about in her own fleet of jets equipped with bowling alleys, you're just being wacky. Sometimes this is enough to let them know they can laugh, which may be all the stronger for the relief in it.

3. You cannot joke all the time. Joking thrives on its relation to the serious, to the real. Real life is like cream and comedy is like the air and whisking. If you whisk nothing you have nothing. But whisk the right amount of cream and you get whipped cream, which, of course, is hilarious. Keep whipping the whipped cream and you get butter, which is excellent on toast and is the famous secret of French cooking.

4. It's okay to challenge your audience. While it is imperative to know your audience (remember point two?) that doesn't mean you can't challenge their limits. Plus, you can only know your audience so much, and throwing out a wide net of material not only keeps them off balance and amuseable, but also helps you refine your material and become better able to actually read your audience in the first place. Writing here I have little or no opportunity to read you as my audience, and so my comedy approaches have been especially diverse. And so too it's a nice approach if in this sort of situation you can present a lot of challenging or minor material in a way that lets it fail without too much notice. For instance, an early joke in this piece was "...I laugh at professional comedians!"  This was a joke far better than my usual standard, but also one that, if you missed it, you didn't stop and say "I didn't get that joke." You merely, possibly, didn't know there was a joke there in the first place. There is an added benefit here that once it's pointed out as a joke it's unmissable.  As to the absurdist humor in point number three, what with the meaningless analogy to butter, it was even more challenging as far as comedy goes, and usually if I did that kind of joke in person I'd have to laugh winningly to assure people that I'm not a lunatic, I'm just being funny. But here, in text, since I can know that at the least you are the sort of person who would actually read all of this post, you might be up for a slightly bizarre and challenging burst of absurdist humor.

5. Try to be nice. This is a tough one because it cuts out at least 30 percent of your material off the top. Professionals perhaps can't afford this one, or, possibly, don't need the restriction due to the depersonalized and formalized relation of their work. You, however do need this, because even though it may seem like comedy comes first, it doesn't. Humanity comes first. Warm laughs are beautiful. Hard, brittle, exploding and snickering laughs are, well, great, I won't lie, but great like fast food; crappy if you actually are paying attention, obesity and cancer causing, and horrible to the world. So be careful. Besides, for all that professional comedians like to go on about the aggressiveness of comedy, its violence (i.e. I killed them out there) they're mostly wrong. You do not want to be a master jokester in order to express your hatred of the world and force people to laugh against their will. Really, you don't. You want to be funny because laughing is fun and sweet, soul purifying, unifying, wise, healthy, and full of love. You want to be funny because it it a force for good! So, remember that out there. And go knock 'em dead.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Calla Lillies at the Library

When things go missing at the Library I have learned not to jump to the conclusion that they have been stolen. My pessimistic nature used to lead me down that path over and over, whether with supplies (which I am in charge of here), items on the request shelves (even more than I used to, the patrons heavily gravitate towards the idea that their request has been stolen), or simply the items on our shelves that are supposed to be in, but aren't. Too often these missing material mysteries were solved with no thief at the end of them. Optimists of the world rest assured that sloppiness, human error, freak accident, and incompetence will blow petty thievery out of the water any day of the week.

Nevertheless, something here at my Library has gone missing and I cannot resist thinking of theft, despite all my better instincts.

Pens disappear from the front desk all the time. No, this is not yet the theft part. I don't attribute missing pens to outright theft. At most it's a kind of kleptomania that I'm content to categorize as accidental. The rare occasions (very rare) where I actually catch a patron walking off with one of our pens (where the caught people just seem so innocent), always reflects this accidental nature. Well, either that, or the thieves are excellent actors. But whatever the cause of all this pen disappearance, after many years I finally decided to adopt the common and well respected fake flower technique, wherein one attaches a fake flower soundly to a pen and it prevents people from casually walking off with it. A bit less than a year ago I was in a craft store and found some very nice fake orange roses on sale. They were even fake bedewed! Investing my own money I bought them and taped them to, mostly, our more expensive pens, all the sharpies and gels. They worked great. Our pen attrition rate vastly slowed and the only, minor, problem was that the little kids loved to pick the very convincing fake water droplets off the roses. Still, time takes its toll on everything, as well as maybe some of that drop picking, and after a long enough time our rose pens were either falling apart or faded away, so I decided it was time for a new crop of fake flowers.

Feeling the expense was fully justified, this time I ordered through the Library. The easiest way to do this was through Amazon. I found it difficult to find the sort of thing I was looking for, but after exhaustive searching eventually I settled on some fake, white calla lilies.

I will spare you my ordering travails, or the story about how I only got half the number I asked for, but when they arrived I was certain I had made the right choice. It turns out there is something wonderful about these calla lilies. It's not just that they look real, which they mostly do, but it's their weird magical quality of feeling real. These fake calla lilies are irresistible to the touch. And that is why, when after we had had our lily pens out at the front desk for only a few days, and I went to the desk and saw a pen with only the remains of the tape that held the flower on, I felt as if I had been robbed. Someone had taken a calla lily!

Yes, yes, perhaps my fake flower was not stolen. Surely there is some other explanation. All my experience tells me that there is a hidden, non-theft explanation for the disappearance of the calla lily. But in my heart I feel that someone just had to have one of those lovely fake flowers. They couldn't resist its radiant charms, and they stole it. They are leaving all our pens behind, just as I hoped, but they are walking away with our  beautiful and (slightly) more valuable flowers.

Well, what can I say, I sort of blame myself. People are not totally terrible, but I have clearly thrown in their path an overwhelming and unreasonable temptation. As Henry Ward Beecher said: "All men are tempted. There is no man that lives that can't be broken down, provided it is the right temptation, put in the right spot." A beautiful fake calla lily, right out at the front desk of an institution where people are roughly free to take what they want, clearly, it's all too much.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What I'm up to

If you read yesterday's post, the natural answer to today's question about what I'm up to would be "Trouble."  But, no, I'm not up to too much trouble, really. In my role as the personification of the clerkmanifesto I have been busying about my local Little Free Libraries. Some time ago I embarked upon a project where I hand grafted masses of clerkmanifesto essays into old weeded books, hand painted the covers, and generally prepared bespoke clerkmanifesto books for dissemination to the community at large. I have some pictures (here). The only problem with these was that they were so laborious to make that, well, I still haven't finished more than a few. So, as an alternative, I have put together little themed journals of posts. These have gone much better. They come in series of about 20 and I am working on the second volume now. The first volume, called Forced to be Better, I have been distributing into Little Free Libraries. I put them facing out of the little library windows to give them a starting advantage and mostly let them find their own way in the world. In a corollary project I have been collecting any books I find that are on my list of loved books (here), and I have been putting them out into the wee libraries as well. All of this has been giving me a much closer acquaintance with the Little Free Libraries. This acquaintance has deepened my feelings about them without particularly altering my sense of them.

Because Sundays here are casual days, I thought I'd try just switching over to more of a list mode to express what I adore about Little Free Libraries, followed by the bit about their problems, or really, their problem, as, basically, there is just the one problem when it comes to Little Free Libraries (LFLs).

So, the things I love:

1. Their mushroom nature. Little Free Libraries have sprouted madly in my neighborhoods, overnight, in the rain, in the sun, in the wind, in the freezing fog, at dawn, at dusk, but always, always more and more and more.

2. Their individuality. There does seem to be a nice, unifying website devoted to LFLs and for a lot of money I think you can even buy a Little Free Library. But of the twenty or so I have pretty easily tracked down around here I don't think I've found any pair that even comes close to a match. To my surprise I have sort of fixated on latches, and have found Libraries with hook and eye latches, wood pegs in holes, wood slides and wood rotating latches. There have been magnets, metal bolts and ones that stay closed because they're hinged at the top. There was a rotating knob and something that fitted and clicked. And these are just the latches!

3. They're Quixotic! Who are all these people going "Today I will put a house on a stick and it will work as a free Library!"? What a ridiculous idea. Dreamers one and all. It will never work! But they just do it anyway!

4. It's Anarchy! Heck, I'm just a bit of an Anarchist myself, and yet, seeing real anarchy in action in the world I get all confused. I become respectful of some authority that isn't even there. Aren't there some rules I'm supposed to follow? Isn't someone going to come out of the nearby house and start yelling at me? No and no, or, at least, I don't think they are.

5. They're so homely. Oh, the little houses on a pole are generally pretty cute, or homely in the prettiest sense of the word, but open them up and what a bland looking bunch of rubbish. Yet again, look closely at all the rubbish and you may find a favorite book in some crappy edition, a lost classic, a hidden gem, or, of course, most likely, just rubbish, which brings us to...

The Negative:

1. What a bunch of junk! Yes, I'm afraid LFLs need a lot of curating. As I said I have started putting things in Little Free Libraries, but I think they need a good bit of weeding more even than the positive additions. Weed your LFLs! How do you know that you're not being disrespectful and getting rid of someone else's carefully chosen favorite book? I say trust your instincts. If your gut tells you that New Analysis in Practical Agronomy 1962 was dumped rather than placed in your local LFL, go with your instincts. The situation is dire enough that we can all live with a mistake or two. Just, if it looks like a homemade little journal, maybe leave it in there, and face it prominently out toward the window.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Out of the mouths of Library Volunteers

I like working with the Library volunteers, or, I like working around them. It's not simply the diversity of that volunteer population that I enjoy, but the way some of that diversity can lie hidden under the leveling qualities of all the mundane, but useful, volunteer tasks. I am nearly as likely to find that some regular volunteer lives in a group home and has developmental disabilities as I am to find one was a top surgeon at the Mayo Clinic. Presented with the both of them, and no prior knowledge, I may be hard pressed to say who is who. They both seem very good at putting DVDs in order. They both seem nice.

One volunteer here, who I see much less frequently these days, is very clearly developmentally disabled. I think she has Down Syndrome. She can't be much more than four feet tall. She is also very round. She charges around like a bowling ball, head down, a dynamo. I've always liked her a bit. Her communication skills are pretty limited and mainly revolve around an interest in free candy and coming up to me, putting her hands on her hips, peering up at me in dramatic mock admonishment, wagging a finger, and saying "You're trouble."

I have to admit there is a certain amount of allowance going on here from me. I am not one to normally look so warmly on teasing jokes about me unless they are truly acid free. But I do think this person is entitled to a lower, though not removed, level of responsibility. And if we can maybe come together here and agree to the many, many, glorious virtues of trouble, I am comfortable enough saying that, wow, she's really got a point there. She's got quite a point there indeed. And so there it is again. The surface tells us she is a disabled person who can barely put a sentence together, but search within that and we find a diviner of truth.

Friday, November 22, 2013

No cat news blues

I have been very eager to bring you the latest update on kafka, the Library cat. Unfortunately there has been nothing to report. No, seriously, there has been so nothing to report that I feel compelled to tell you how very nothing there is to report.

A few days ago though there was plenty to report. Young kafka, who everyday seems to be just a tiny bit less a kitten and a tiny bit more a cat, was not so long ago cutting his usual wide swath. On Sunday kafka mauled the thin skin of an old lady's forearm so thoroughly as to leave a couple guitar's worth of claw marks, including, when I arrived on the scene, at least three of which were trickling blood. I was almost violently sick with worry about what kind of trouble this could bring down on dear kafka's future. Fortunately the old lady was a familiar of cats who chuckled warmly at her savaged arm and considered it to be a kind of punctuation to kafka's affection. She suggested she had perhaps played a bit too rough. I was fully in accord with her, but am aware things could have gone very differently. Perhaps we can say kafka is down to eight lives.

And speaking of the peculiar nature of cat affection, on Monday, kafka sweetly presented the Library service desk with the generous and savage gift of a headless bird. Though naturally appreciated it raised the mystery of where kafka, who everyone thought had never been outside, got it. Young kafka's resourcefulness appears to be revealing in deep layers. Monday night, kafka, who is a bit of a gourmand, was reported to be eating a fish in the teen room. When we went to investigate, kafka had disappeared. He remained unseen all through Tuesday until, concerned, I tracked him down to a canvas bin, where apparently he had curled up and settled down for an quick nap that has now lasted for at least two, but possibly more than three full days and nights.

Actually, I'll go check on him right now. Don't expect too much.

He's purring. I pet him and he's quietly purring in his sleep. Still in the canvas bin he seems untired. I don't think he could possibly be tired unless all the sleeping has worn him out. To tell you the truth, I think he's just sleeping for the fun of it. I understand.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Secret war with librarian

I am in a long running secret war with whoever officially puts out the featured, display books at the ends of the fiction and genre fiction shelves. My opponent, a librarian, puts out moderately sharp looking (for the Library) hardcover books, regardless of content. I counter by putting out books based on sheer, proselytizing, passionate, fanboy love. I'm losing.

Yes, those nice, squared off, hardback, largely unstained copies of Elizabeth Berg and David Baldacci are flying out of the display holders, while my bent, rough around the edges, paperback Richard Brautigans just sit there, day after day, looking forlorn and ever so small. I think the Richard Brautigan book is waiting for Charlie Brown to come along and bring it back to the Peanuts gang, who will then call him a blockhead, and say "Only Charlie Brown could go to a Library full of wonderful hardcover books and come back with a stupid beat up paperback about Watermelons! Of all the Charlie Browns, you're the Charlie Browniest!"

So, style has its triumphs over substance. Aye, style clubs substance like a baby seal. But I vow that I will not be deterred. I will take this woeful little Richard Brautigan book downstairs, carefully apply a little 845 book tape, erase some stains that I can, polish it up a little, and it's not so bad. Quite a nice little book really. Endearing. And if you open it up, oh, if you open it up, and read just a little... well, look for it, it's always there.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The seven hidden reasons for visiting the front desk

Most people come to the front desk of the Library for the usual things. They want to pay fines, get cards, request a book, find out where something is. They want information, or to return something, or to inform us of something. But underneath all these business-as-usual visits there sometimes lurk secret motivations, and among our wildly diverse visitors can be found a dizzying array of hidden reasons for these front desk visits. While the mundane issues of Library transactions are the always, and sometimes only, issues present, these secret reasons lurk underneath so often that I can only list some of the most common ones here. Any more and we could be here all day! You don't want to be here all day, do you?

You do? Well, I am touched. Gosh. May I mention here that my prose is deeply layered, and if you would like to be here all day, you could read this over and over, extracting new meanings at each go. Memorizing, a la a poem, and then reciting this post to friends could also be satisfying in this regard. Just, you know, as a heads up.

And so with that taken care of I present you with the seven most frequent secret reasons to visit the front desk at the Library.

1. Sheer, unremitting, abject loneliness.

2. In the hope that somehow something good will happen, kind of like a free slot machine!

3. To get a general feel for the place. Want to know if our library is welcoming, cold, friendly, weird, or carnivalesque? You need merely ask for a pencil, or whether we have any F. W. Murnau movies, and you should get a fair glimpse of what you really want to know.

4. To establish oneself as a member of the Library community and not just one of the people who anonymously come in to play colored ball games on the computers.

5. Fishing, as in, when a person is sure there is a real reason for coming to the desk, but they just don't know it yet. They figure it will emerge at some point during their payment of a 10 cent fine in pennies, or perhaps during their inquires about the Library "closed" dates in the upcoming years.

6. People are just naturally drawn to where the party is. Woot.

7. Someone wants to let us know that they're up to no good and make sure we're okay with that.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

For the stars

Sometimes you just have to try.

Tuesday morning and the eyes of a restless internet turn to me. Did you know that everything in the world is equally tiny and magnificent? These words you are reading are lost in the greatest sea of text ever created, a vast, unfathomable ocean. Everything is meaningless, unaccountable, unreal, repetitive, and swallowed up by the heaving oceanic movements of time and the wild cacophony of a billion voices that flatten everything.

And yet here we are. With these words flooding our heads. Our very reality is all caught up in this, vision, this crystallization of letters. For myself I am unaccountably trying to share some dream, some sense of some mystery always clawing up from the great underneath. The skin of the world itself can fall into doubt, but there is always an underneath. Even the most homely writer rides that. I ride that, trying to direct some primordial, unfathomable, and bottomless force into slender words, and catch a terrible fragment at best.

And what are you doing here? 

The same. You are here for the same. 

And how can I say what you are here for? Well, I have always been prone to fits of wild confidence. Here is one now. We are wrangling volcanoes. We are volcano wranglers. We bring up the burning lava, the molten rock. We guide it as best we can, but bringing it up from the great underneath is the key thing. The lava hardens in the cool air and the light of day. It turns to stone and stone rises from the ocean, rises from itself, and we stand higher and higher. It is a slow and wild, glorious and terrifying endeavor, maybe hopeless too. But for all our vast tricks and talents, we are only earthbound creatures. It is the only way we have to reach the stars.

Monday, November 18, 2013


One of our regular volunteers says to me, with amused pleasure "Roy thinks yams are yucky and said he won't eat any at Thanksgiving this year."

I don't think I have ever heard of this Roy before, have no context for his yams, and have no idea what any of this refers to. But I know this volunteer. She is fairly capable as a volunteer, consistent, reasonably dedicated. I don't know what her developmental issues are, but whatever they are they make talking with her decidedly non generic. I like her well enough. She is neither a favorite of mine nor an irritant. Judging from the rate and length of our exchanges I suppose I am neither an irritant nor a favorite to her either. I do know that talking with her works best if I apply a great deal of energy to it. I have found that conversation has a power to carry you along. It is full of rhythms and waves. You can ride it. You can rest in the other's speech. You can dance along to the call and response of it, all the sparks and light bulbs. But this, with her, is not really conversation. It's a lot more like taking turns saying things. Nevertheless it has its rhythmic, tennis like qualities to it, too, in it's own way. I mean, if you think of it as her hitting a ball to me, me hitting it back, her ignoring the return and hitting me a new ball. You see, I am nearly certain that my responses do not affect what she says next to me in any way.

I will illustrate with two examples.

Example one. I respond "Who is this Roy and what on earth does he have against yams? Can I meet him? Is he here now?"

She replies "He's so funny. Last year he wouldn't take off his shoes!"

Or, example number two. I respond "I think it would be interesting to hollow out a yam through a small access hole and cram marshmallows into the center. Then close up the yam and deep fry it in peanut oil. Wait, are we talking about yams or sweet potatoes?"

She replies "He's so funny. Last year he wouldn't take off his shoes!"

I'm okay with this. It's a dynamic that I feel underlies more library conversations than might at first be apparent. Most people are better at pretending to listen. Well, this volunteer will have none of that! And bless her for her lack of pretense. Bring me more of these crazy Roy stories. I have some stories too!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Trouble in Co-op Land

We go a little far afield on this one, to the politics of my local co-ops. It violates my oft broken "no politics because it makes me froth at the mouth" rule. I have put it a bit out of the way by posting it here on a Sunday. I sent it to my (very) local paper. What else can I tell you to encourage you not to read it? Oh, it's mostly humorless, outside of a few, sharp, quiet, possibly savage digs at a co-op board and a co-op CEO. You should know the following though, I mean, if you're going to stick this one out, which I advise against. I really love my co-ops. I love food, and they are so far and away the best place to get amazing, actual food, where I live that they dwarf everything else. And I love cooperative ventures, like libraries! And so it always will break my heart when some cooperative institution, whether library or grocery store, starts looking all admiringly at the capitalist shiny bangle organizations that are usually in full and heedless control of everything.

So, here it is:

There is an old story in which a man comes home, beaten down from a hard day at work, and on the issues of the day he is a fiery leftist, sympathetic to the poor and downtrodden. But as the pleasures of home are introduced to him his positions moderate. In what turns out to be a comfortable lifestyle, surrounded by people who indulge him, the man eats a rich meal, is tended to by others, and loses all sympathy for the oppressed, even to the extent that includes, at least somewhat, his working self from earlier in the day. He ends the day full, unsympathetic, and very conservative in his views.

There is nothing wrong with comfort or satisfaction. They are wonderful things and fine pursuits, but they do have their dangers; complacency, coldness, greed, and self-satisfaction have a pronounced tendency to creep in around their edges. I see troubling early indications of this at my local co-operative food stores.

I have lived in these Cities for more than 20 years now, and during that time I have always belonged to at least one co-op. I and my wife have done the vast majority of our grocery shopping at these often wonderful stores. I have watched them grow and thrive and expand. And I have always been pleased and proud to be part of such a brilliant, against-the-odds, series of collective enterprises. These are like business versions of Libraries, but without the government umbrella, just, gathered together in the wild. Self supporting food shopping, bypassing government, dancing with capitalism, and going straight to the benefits and power of collectivity. I am currently a member at the Wedge and at the Seward. It is at these two Co-ops where I suddenly find new things, common in the culture at large, but traditionally anathema to the very spirit of co-ops, creeping in at the edges.

The first issue is at the Wedge, and seems minor, but is also disturbing in its vision. They hired a CEO. Not a general manager. Not even a President. A CEO. The position and term CEO invokes in every way the image of corporate organization, top down management, and high gear capitalism. The disconnect between the collective and cooperative nature of the Wedge and its purported goals, co-op values of democracy and equality, egalitarianism and equity, and a generic, corporatist, and frankly clueless term like CEO is enormous. If it is true that Wedge CEO Josh Resnick's duties at the Wedge are best, or even legally described as those of a CEO, perhaps it should call into question what his duties are. And even if it does not call into question those duties the term nevertheless rankles. It has the feel of a Republic calling their leader King. It may be meant perhaps charmingly or affectionately, but there is a real feeling of sycophancy in it. And using the language, and possibly the structure, of the very things we are trying to dismantle is never the way to dismantle them. It is dangerous because it starts to erode our own identity and mission. If we wish to aggrandize our leader in name, what compensation packages and powers will slowly and ever so quietly seem appropriate to go with such a title. I do not know Josh Resnick. He may be great for the Wedge. But I do know he has a deep background in marketing at General Mills. People change, and CEO Resnick has done different, more positive jobs since then, but his glossy position title of CEO certainly evokes the term "co-opt" more easily than "co-op", and his Linked In profile seems alarmingly content to cast CEO of the Wedge as a natural progression from mercenarily marketing mass produced, heavily processed food, rather than as a rejection of the same.

Over at our Seward Co-op the new problems seem similar, though they play out differently. The Seward community just passed a proposal (498 to 365) to compensate its board members several hundred dollars a month. That a barely thinking public might choose, in a time of many financial and expansion challenges, to pay high level volunteers shows a kind of sloppy, well fed sympathy for the more prominent and influential among them. That the board itself would put this to a vote suggests a self-interest anathema to being on a co-op board. When poorer members of the community need help, the Seward finds ways and systems to try and help them, they give money to organizations, they stock food shelves, they provide education. For members of the co-op board, an always sought after, and formerly volunteer position, we just give them a bunch of money. This is business as usual culturally, but it is sad to see at a co-op, which, let me say it again, prides itself on issues of democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. We give money to people who have it because they deserve it, and we carefully dole out precious resources to help people in need pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It is a sad surprise to get that Republican feel at my local co-op.

In all my years of Seward membership I don't recall ever getting the opportunity to vote on a proposal for a ten percent raise for all non managerial staff at the Seward. It's an interesting idea and I'd like to see the former volunteers on the board put that one forward. I think our community money would be better spent there. I know it would be expensive. I'm willing to cut back on some of the co-op's offered classes, outreach, marketing, board compensation, and CEO salary. That would express co-op values. And if the board or CEOs really can't get by, they can stock a little lettuce. If it's really bad they can go back to test marketing yoplait flavors. I am sure they will be richly rewarded.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

In my neighborhood

As a more than decade long resident of my neighborhood it, at some point, became apparent to me that there were loads of nice straight sidewalks running all over the place. I decided at some point that it might be fun to make use of these sidewalks. It turns out I had a reasonably good time on them, so now, when the thirst for adventure seizes me, I strap on my shoes, which seem almost as if they could have been engineered for these so-called sidewalks, and I walk around. I walk up the sidewalks and I walk down the sidewalks. I cross the street to new sidewalks. I am not sure if this is how one is supposed to use sidewalks. They were possibly designed as decorative fringes for our roads. Their rakishly contrasting color, all light to the road's darkness, certainly suggests it. Or perhaps these sidewalks were designed to give us something to scrape snow off of, as a kind of public health effort by the city to get us out of the house for a bit in the winter to make sure we get fresh air and a bit of cardiovascular exercise. But whatever the intended use of the mysterious sidewalk is, I like to walk on them, preferably with my wife, who is extraordinarily good company. So I do. I go outside and I walk on them.

And now we come to the traditional point when your folksy, sidewalk walking blogger would typically tell you about all the wonderful things you can see out there on the sidewalks of your neighborhood, about all the wonderful people you can meet just by going out and walking your local sidewalks, the exotic flora, crafty and intriguingly out of place wild animals, and generally fascinating encounters with the world at large, all to be had on the world of sidewalks.

But I will not be telling you about these things.

“Why not?” You ask. "One develops certain expectations when writers start talking about walking around their neighborhood!"

I won't tell you because I'm a rebel! And also because I have sworn to tell you the truth, except when I am rebelling against my vows and not telling you the truth. But I have vowed to only lie to you in a way that reveals the truth! So I will tell you the truth, even if it is terribly shocking when it rears up on its quiet, enormous paws and calmly says:

There is nothing much going on out there on the sidewalks.

Nope, not much at all.

Oh it snows and it rains on the sidewalks, leaves fall and pile up and break down. It's neat stuff sure, but I think it's the kind of thing you can see from your windows if you've just got to. Ice forms over the sidewalks. A cat might visit me out there. I can pet it. It's soft. But you could just keep a cat of your own who you are free to pet in the privacy of your own home anytime you want. Or just drive to a library. Each one is equipped, by Library of Congress mandate, with precisely one bona fide cat. Every rare once in awhile I can, just by walking about, see something like a turkey, poking around some neighbor's side yard. It happened to me today in fact. It was a big, shiny turkey! It's amusing and interesting, but seriously, it's not going to kill you to miss that sort of thing. Sometimes there are pretty flowers or plants growing around, but I doubt that they're some big super rare orchids or anything. They're plants. I doubt you can even eat most of them. Though I do hear hostas are edible! There are clouds. There's definitely the occasional person to run into out on the sidewalks, and they seem nice enough, but, first of all, not to shatter your warm and exalted feelings towards the human race, but, the fact is that if you meet one stranger you've pretty much met them all. More or less. Someone had to say it. I said it. No, seriously. And, second, I believe I mentioned that my wife is extraordinarily good company, so I'd rather talk to her anyway. Perhaps you have someone you're as enthusiastic about in your own abode? I hope so. But even if not, those of us loitering about the neighborhood sidewalks might not be as thrilling and receptive as you might think.

So what I'm saying is, you can bop around on the sidewalks if you want. Go up the sidewalk, come down the sidewalk. Cross the street to a different, but very similar sidewalk. You can go to the Library, stumble over to a park or a bar or a cafe. You can walk clean round the planet, maybe pacing on the boat parts. But you don't have to. Nothing important is happening anywhere. Nothing. So stay in if you like. I can keep an eye on it all for you.

Friday, November 15, 2013


 I work with many volunteers, patrons, and, problematically, because it is unacknowledged, an occasional co-worker, who I assume has some basic kind of developmental disability.  That is, something is limited in their social facility or thinking processes in some significant way, but I don't exactly know what. I don't know the wide extent of it, the diagnosis, or usually even the extent to which it redefines or circumscribes their lives. There are some volunteers and many patrons where it is extremely clear that they deal with profound social functioning issues, but all of it is on a kind of continuum, and as the list of things a person is able to do on their own grows, it starts to meet up with all the other people I know and deal with who are considered perfectly able. But no one is perfectly able. We all carry at least a few bits of damage, at least, and personality itself is partly, in the glass half empty scheme of things, defined by things that don't work so well in us.

So it turns out we are all developmentally disabled, at least in a non scientific sense of that term. And this is an understanding, not a theory. If you think the President of the United States, or a revered author, or the Astronauts in space do not find it painfully difficult or impossible to do things you or I can do as a matter of course, or at least with basic facility, then you have misunderstood the very nature of human beings. We have been given the responsibilities of the gods, but none of their powers.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Elaborate russian puns

I do not really write jokes, I mean, not formal, two rabbis walk into a bar jokes. But sometimes they are visited upon me, an idea, a response, a light bulb moment that causes my brain to thrust a joke into my hands. This happens almost always at the Library. Sometimes I just get the kernel of the joke to start and am compelled to puzzle out the rest of it. These jokes are almost exclusively pun related, and, like most jokes, are not terribly funny. But with the visitation of the joke comes a Rime of the Ancient Mariner like need to tell said joke. I don't even put up the suggestion of a fight. I know my duty when I see it. I march off and tell the joke to the five people in nearest proximity to me. If, as with the joke below, it appears to me while I am dealing with a patron, I tell the patron, usually along with whoever my co-worker is out there. Then I walk into the back room and tell whoever is back there. Then I walk to the teen room and tell the teen librarian. Usually I manage to tell it really well just one of the times I tell it. That helps lift the curse. There are usually two to five tellings before I am released. There must have been some albatross I killed somewhere, but I can't remember.

So if I am released, why am I sharing this joke with you now? No, sorry, it is not too good to deprive you of. What actually happened is that it started out simple, but not quite right. And as I told it more and more I kept layering it up. By the time it all sort of fit properly together I'd already told it to everyone, so I need this one more telling to release me from my responsibilities.

A man with a pair of skis goes to see a Doctor.  

"I didn't know whether to come to you Doctor, my ailment just seems so strange, but it's driving me crazy and I need help." The man says.

"Yes, what's the problem?"

"My Russian grandmother died and left me these very old skis. They are a family heirloom once belonging to a great composer. I am an avid skier and as soon as I could I excitedly took my new skis out to the slopes. Before I even made it down my first run I started coughing a bizarre and horrible cough!"

"What is so strange about this cough?" The Doctor asks.

"Well, when I cough, the taste of black tea, with spices of cardamon, ginger, and black pepper, floods my mouth. And the cough, the cough, no matter what I do, makes the sound of The 1812 Overture! Here, I'll show you." 

The man clips the skis to his boots and is soon coughing. Sure enough the cough sounds just like The 1812 Overture, and the man manages to say "Yes, and there's the taste of the spiced black tea as well."

The Doctor looks carefully at the man. She feels his glands. Then she crouches down and looks at the skis. "I see the problem." She says nodding.

"Yes?" inquires the man eagerly.

"These aren't just any skis." The Doctor says. "These are Chai Cough Skis."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sport in street

I was in bed with my wife, and I was trying to sleep at 10:30 in the evening. Still recovering from a rough cold it was not easy going. But whatever natural problems of illness I had in sleeping were increased exponentially by the sound of people playing ball in the street. A group of young men had moved into the large rental house just a little down the block from us. This house has always been a problem in the sense that whoever has lived there has been strongly inclined to make a lot of noise on the street, often in the wee hours of the morning. This wasn't the wee hours, but it was annoying and seemed to be issuing from that most usual culprit. Thud, thud, Thud, THUD, thud thud. Was it a basketball? No, too irregular. A football? No, too frequent. Certainly it had to be a larger, air filled ball. The sound was too blunt for anything stiffer, like a Frisbee, or baseball. And what was it that could go on like that with no rhythm and no break?

I tossed and turned. Fortunately I wasn't coughing. That was good. If only they would stop, I thought, I could maybe sleep.

Thud, thud, thud, Thud THUD, thud. There were no animating noises of young men at play. Just the ball, or whatever it was. I could make no sense of the noise. I could not crack this puzzle.

Finally overcome with curiosity I rose from bed, went to the window, pulled back the curtain, and peered out. In the middle of the street were three young men, maybe in their twenties, kicking a soccer ball between them. There was no chatter, no competition. It was serious and earnest, and they were very, very, very good. Heads, chest, knees, feet, onto the next one, and as I stood watching for two minutes, cold and sleep deprived, not once did that soccer ball ever touch ground. Not even close. Professional soccer players had moved into the house down the street.

As I went back to bed I dealt with a small stew of reactions. To get that good you have to play a lot of futbol. This could go on for quite awhile! And I also thought, they were really good! I don't know if it was the satisfaction of my curiosity, the increase in my sleepiness, or my respect for them, perhaps it was all three, but I was asleep in minutes. I don't know how late they played.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Script for 3 minute movie

Not having the energy or suitable skills to film the following 3-minute YouTube video, I present it here as a teleplay script. Not really knowing how to write a teleplay script I present it here sort of as a roughly written description of a 3-minute video. It was inspired by the teen librarian's account of a Library event in which a participant stumbled into a meeting room wall and put a huge crack and dent in it. The participant was uninjured.

Room and Walls

Opening shot: Person in a white, brightly lit room. No windows, no doors. The person sits in a simple chair calmly reading a book. The camera starts out very static, but moves about more and more as events unfold.

There is a sudden, almost sonic burst of energy. Some invisible force seems to slam into one of the white walls. From this, the wall visibly buckles and a massive crack forms across the wall, nearly running from the floor to the ceiling. The person starts at the noise and looks amazed and uneasy at the damaged wall. The person investigates and finds no explanation. As they begin to accept the oddity, the same bizarre concussive event happens on the wall to their right. The person is now seriously spooked, looking around
at they know not what, when, before their eyes, another wall invisibly splits with a deep crack and a boom. Frantic, feeling under assault by what seems to be some hostile spirit they cannot identify, the person starts freaking out. They are whirling and desperate as the camera also whirls in a frenzy about them. With a massive shocking boom the last untouched wall is slammed unseen and cracked and bent by force. The person is thrown into terror. Spinning about madly they suddenly face the camera, and us, the viewers, directly. They calm with alarming suddenly, and, completely  composed, they say to the camera "You broke the fourth wall."

Monday, November 11, 2013

my drugs

I have recently mentioned here that as a teen, and for a while into my twenties, I took a variety of drugs. I took hard drugs. But I don't mean it in the conventional use of that description. Hard drugs usually is intended to refer to something about the strength and danger of the drugs in question. What I mean by hard drugs has to do with difficulty. I took drugs that were extremely difficult. Drugs that challenged one's notion of oneself. Drugs that made me uncomfortable. Drugs that launched assaults on the edges of my consciousness, on my notions of what being human is, and on my very sanity.

They were interesting, but they were not well suited to me.

When I was 16, 17, 18, I took LSD, mushrooms, peyote. I smoked pot too, but rarely actually found it fun. I remember one moment of insight, some weekend with the boys in Todd's house, taking LSD while his parents were away, finding my way to the hall bathroom where Todd was doing something with his face in the mirror, and saying to him "But this is how I always am."

Fly high? Do not seek the sun. Fly low? Do not touch the water. Sociable, confident? Don't drink alcohol. Energetic, high revving? You do not need caffeine. Spacey, musing, thoughtful? Avoid marijuana. Lucid, anxious? Eschew the hallucinogens.

I don't think drugs are essential. I don't need to be on drugs. But the right ones can be nice too. I drink alcohol moderately on occasion. It's especially helpful in social situations. I have caffeine daily. I love the drink, but to have a flush of energy and vividness once or twice a day is lovely too. These are the right drugs for me. Not because they are legal, I don't believe drugs should be illegal, and of course marijuana and acid are vastly less dangerous than alcohol, but because they suit me, because they are easy, not hard.

A very small story I am prone to tell is this one I have told you, that I took the wrong drugs as a teenager. And it is true that I would have done much better in that time with a little alcohol softening uncomfortableness and caffeine to show me something about restless energy. But none of it would have solved the deeper problems running through my life at that time. And of all the things I have had to survive in my life, I feel a little pride at surviving LSD and Peyote and the like. They were a little like surviving myself.

File:Peyote Cactus.jpg

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My recommended books: The Hundred Greatest Books, Albums, and Artists (With Romantic Comedy recommendations too!)

This is a list of my recommended books. or, as I am increasingly calling it, The Hundred Greatest Books of All Time

You will also find The Hundred Greatest Albums of all time list here (in progress). I am just starting The Hundred Greatest Artists too. And a Recommended Romantic Comedy list has been added. All of this is below. 

Three brief notes before the recommendations:

1. Every (usually Red) colored title, name or sometimes word in here is a link to one of my at least somewhat relevant blog posts. 


2. Books are by genre and so may duplicate in multiple genre lists.

The Hundred Greatest Books ever written, with each individual book being the single greatest book ever written. By genre.


The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde.

Coyote Waits and Sacred Clowns by Hillerman (I liked his mystery series very much, but it peaked here for me and qualified for my list).

 Straight, Proof, Whip hand by Dick Francis (and actually most of his mid career mysteries, some of the early ones, none of the late late ones)

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Haddon 

Murder on the Orient Express and various Poirot by Agatha Christie

The Doorbell Rang, well, and all Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. Yep, the whole lot of them. I suppose I could nitpick away half a dozen out of the "Love" list, but I won't.

The Big Sleep by Chandler (the whole series, though it's been awhile)

Collected Sherlock Holmes (Though possibly not after Return of Sherlock Holmes) by Arthur Conan Doyle

Young Adult/Children's:

 Catcher in the Rye by Salinger

 Wee Free Men and Hat full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight by Pratchett (The first four of the Tiffany Aching saga)

 The Snarkout boys and the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater

Dragonsong and Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey 

Blue Sword by Robin Mckinley

The Golden Compass 
and The Subtle Knife by Pullman ( but sadly, not the third one)

 The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde   

The Adrian Mole Diaries by Townsend (I can only commit to the first two volumes, when he is still a teenager).

Sabriel and Lirael by Garth Nix

Pippi Longstocking by Lindgren

Wizard of Earthsea, Tombs of Atuan, and (maybe?) Farthest Shore by LeGuin 

Homeland, Pirate Cinema, and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow 

There's a Boy in the Girls Bathroom and all the Wayside School books (including the new one-this being noted here in 2020) by Louis Sachar 

 Danny Champion of the World  and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Dahl

The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

Tomorrow When the war Began by John Marsden (and the whole "Tomorrow" series. It's about a bunch of older teens off camping in Australia when their country is invaded by Indonesia or something. They become Guerilla fighters. A more real world feel Hunger Games

The Chosen by Potok 

The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (the appearance of this book on this list is largely inspired by the piece here that the title links to. Let's just say for now that I like this book very much). 

Lockwood and Co., starting with The Screaming Staircase and exemplifying every quality of a multi book fantasy series done right from start to finish (I think I'd better write a post about this, so one day this should be highlighted). A five book series by Jonathan Stroud.

Harry Potter 1-3 by J.K. Rowling

Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer by Twain 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Winnie the Pooh, and House at Pooh Corner
by A.A. Milne

Alvin's Secret Code by Clifford B. Hicks   (A book I read regularly when I was young, but not since!)

Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck


Blue Sword by Robin Mckinley

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (nothing else of hers quite does it though)

Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding

Sci Fi:

The Left Hand of Darkness, The Disposessed, The Word for World is Forest, Four Ways to Forgiveness, and a lot of the story collections by Ursula K. LeGuin

Cats Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut (and I think Sirens of Titan, which I might want to reread)

The Eyre Affair and all its sequels by Jasper Fforde

Gateway by Frederik Pohl

The Long Walk by Stephen King

Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem

Night Watch by Lukyanenko

The Rook by Daniel O'malley

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells


The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (and really, and all its sequels)

 The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett and a scattering of others, most of which include the witches

Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Wise Mens' Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (sequel to above)

Blue Sword by Robin Mckinley

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (I don't even want to talk about the movies, feh)

The Golden Compass by Pullman (and The Subtle Knife, but sadly, not the third one)

 Sabriel and Lirael by Garth Nix

The Left Hand of Darkness by LeGuin (and large amounts of her other books, including some of the story collections, and Disposessed, Wizard of Earthsea first three)

Nightwatch by Lukyanenko 

Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Lockwood and Co., a five book series by Jonathan Stroud, starting with The Screaming Staircase and exemplifying every quality of a multi book fantasy series done right from start to finish.

Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Surely you're Joking Mr. Feynman by Feynman and some other guy (this actually is the exception to my rule that no good book is written by two authors, one vastly more famous that the other).

 Fishwhistle, and Uncle Boris in the Yukon by Daniel Pinkwater

 The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

My Family and other Animals by Gerald Durrell (the post this links to importantly qualifies this entry)

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, The Boat that Wouldn't Float, Never Cry Wolf, People of the Deer, all by Farley Mowat

It's Only Slow Food Until you Try and Eat It by Bill Heavey

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Non Fiction: 

(See above category as well)

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan 

Summerhill by A. S. Neill

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe 

Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

The Tracker (also) by Tom Brown Jr. (honestly it probably doesn't so much belong in non fiction, but...)

 Never Cry Wolf, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, and People of the Deer by Farley Mowat (come to think of it let's add The Boat Who Wouldn't Float which is awfully nice to spend a bit of time with)

 The Man Who Ate Everything by Steingarten 

Searching for Bobby Fischer by Fred Waitzkin

 Context by Cory Doctorow

The collected Miss Manners Books (any that are mainly compendiums of the columns) by Judith Martin 



Ship of the Line by Forester (and the whole Horatio Hornblower saga) 

Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, The Boat that Wouldn't Float, Never Cry Wolf, People of the Deer, all by Farley Mowat

Call of the Wild by Jack London

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

A Dream in Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu

Just regular old Fiction:

In Watermelon Sugar by Brautigan (and a healthy bit of the poetry and Trout Fishing)

The Magic Christian by Terry Southern

 Don Quixote by Cervantes (revered literature!)

Bartleby the Scrivener by Melville (look at me with the revered literature stuff!)

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (based on about four pages, but, still, there's something about it. Search my posts for my encounter, no, wait, go here, and here) This choice elevates the tone of my list like crazy!

Dead Souls by Gogol

King of the Schnorrers by Zangwill

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Resurrection, Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy (more literature! Not for the faint of heart!)

Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, Grapes of Wrath, In Dubious Battle, by Steinbeck

Wise Blood, Violent Bear it Away, Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'connor

Picture Books:

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin

Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Nanette's Baguette, Gerald and Piggie series, The Pigeon Books, and really most everything by Mo Willems

The Sleep Book, Horton Hears a Who, Horton Hatches the Egg, Green Eggs and Ham, and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (also maybe a couple others?)

(With each album being individually the greatest album ever, so, not a ranked list)

On the Beach by Neil Young

Mustt Mustt by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

The Red Album by The Beatles

Live at the Fillmore by Lucinda Williams

World Gone Wrong by Bob Dylan (The World Gone Wrong links to the series post about that album, but watch out for the "Bob Dylan" link as it connects to a vast listing of my many, many Bob Dylan posts)

Grapesongs by Gabriel Arquilevich    (Curiously like the Bob Dylan link above this second link will link not just to a single post, but to a vast series of posts about the the person who made Grapesongs).

Blues for Allah by The Grateful Dead

Chopin's Nocturnes by Chopin as performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy

Ok Computer by Radiohead

Ladies of the Canyon by Joni Mitchell

Good Old Boys by Randy Newman

The B-52's by The B-52's

Gone Again by Patti Smith

John Prine Live by John Prine

The Kinks Album by The Kinks

Hmm, I am not even close to finished. So, more later...

The Hundred Greatest Artworks of All Time! (New)

The Deposition from the Cross by Pontormo (In Florence)

Sleeping Cupid by Caravaggio (In Florence)

Romantic Comedy Movies:

(Of all the lists here this alone is not heralded as "The Hundred Greatest". Why? Because even though I adore these movies all but a few have... imperfections? Let's leave it at that for now).

This is your starter pack: 

The Romantic Comedies (and this) I love and recommend include:

Notting Hill
Love Actually
Music and Lyrics
French Kiss
The Holiday
Tin Cup
Two Weeks Notice
Groundhog Day
New in Town
About Time
The American President 
Mamma Mia
Long Shot
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Princess Switch

The Sandler/Barrymore trifecta:

Wedding Singer
50 First Dates

Coming additions: 100 Greatest Artists

last revised:

Many dozens of unnoted times until I started to list edit dates:

The Basement for this post (includes previous introductory notes and information that may find a home elsewhere in time):

This list is growing more complicated all the time, so I will try to give as brief as possible an introduction. I'll do it in list form!

 1. Important! This list has evolved into a weird collection of nearly, but not quite, random links across the several thousand post history of my blog and so is maybe a good exploration vehicle to the history (not necessarily to "The Best") of Clerkmanifesto. Every colored title or name or sometimes even word in here is a link to one of my at least somewhat relevant blog posts (even "recommended books" above is a link to a discussion of book recommendations!). So click freely on red text! It's a good way to follow what piques your interest. Short essays will explain my title choices sometimes directly, sometimes it will discuss something about the author. Sometimes it is very direct; an essay, a review, or a reference, but also it can be a complicated, idiosyncratic connection. There's only one way to find out.

2. Every one of these are books I love, but, yes, in some cases the love is a bit rusty. I may not have read some books for a long, long time, and I would maybe feel differently about them now. Still, I'll try to keep all books to ones I suspect I'd still at least kind of love if I read them now.

3. I'm listing things into Genres of all kinds. Many books may be mentioned more than once if they fit in multiple genres/categories.

4. It looks terrible I know. Sorry. It has been patched, added to, repaired, and corrected hundreds of times in its seven years, and now it looks like an ancient battered suitcase held onto for nostalgia's sake. Today, 10-9-2020 I spent several hours working on it just to get it to a state where it looks like it needs a lot of work. So just take what you can from it.