Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Book Review--Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

I've been wandering through genres since I gave up my old stand-by of historical romance novels (although plenty of family members joked that it was "fantasy", anyway).  And I haven't settled on one particular type of novel that really grabs me and makes me want to read more and more (exception:  Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children series).  So I've elected a grab-and-try-it approach.

The other factor is that when I'm at my desk in the back of the library (not on the front lines and the reference desk) I have the opportunity to listen to audiobooks while doing some of my more mundane tasks.  So, not only do I have the challenge of finding books that I like but also that the reader is enjoyable, as well.

Ding ding ding

We have a winner!  Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I was intrigued by the description of the story--featuring a bookstore, libraries, a secretive sect, and typography--and listened to the first 10 minutes of Ari Fliakos' voice interpretation and was hooked!

Set in current times and featuring a cast of characters that aren't afraid to show their geeky side, this journey through the discovery and infiltration of a shadowy literature sect takes some side roads through the Google complex, computers, the history of typography and discusses the possibility of immortality.

Just when you think it's all adventure, interesting characters and not a lot more... in comes the heavy thought of: what would you do to achieve immortality.  And the secondary thought: what does immortality look like to you?  Sloan adds just enough mystery to get you thinking but not so much you feel like you're slogging through a philosophical tome; this story is like chatting with a friend while curled up on the couch. And Fliakos' mellow voice and characterizations bring the story to life in a very satisfying way.

Go ahead, take a chance and visit Mr. Penumbra's Bookstore!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Public Challenge #1

I've posted before on the interesting concept of working with the public (The Fine Art of Eye Contact).  And I've even touched on what I'm going to talk about today (Just Say Thank you).

But after a year and a half of working the reference desk at the public library, I've discovered the hardest thing about working with the general public is not working with the irate and unpleasant patrons but it's with the ones that are too nice.

When I say "too nice" I'm not talking about uber-friendly or annoyingly cheerful people.  I'm not talking about cute kids coming up to talk (even though I'm on the 'adult' side, I still get some fun little visitors).

I'm talking about people (unfortunately most often men) that seem to misunderstand the difference between being polite/helpful and something more personal.

I've had to learn the skill of politely and non-offensively turning down offers of dates.  Or politely accepting small gifts without any indication that it establishes a personal connection. Or ignoring puppy dog eyes as they follow my progress as I walk across the room. I've had to let someone know that I am not available to sit and chat with them at my desk for an hour as they relate "there I was" stories.

There is a fine line, I've discovered, between showing enough politeness and interest in order to get people to let you know what kind of information or help they really need and appearing friendly enough that they want to tell you their life story.  I didn't realize that reference librarians are stand-ins for counselors and bartenders. Even learning how to toe this line I have heard about:

  • Criminal backgrounds
  • "Friends" who need extradition laws for other states
  • Marriage woes
  • Divorce woes
  • Child custody battles
  • Gender confusion
  • Dead relatives
  • Living relatives
  • Parenting disasters
  • Financial difficulties
The question I have found the most awkward so far was a lady with an Irish accent (notable because it's unusual here) and her two small children (boy and girl about 9 and 5, respectively).  She came up and in her lovely, lilting accent asked, "I can't figure out the computer system.  Where are you books about rape and incest?" I blinked twice and then found some things that would work and led her over to them.  I was hesitant to ask too many question about who/why it was for since her children were right there.  My internal monologue was on a roll, though. "Who is this for?  You or your kids?  We don't have a How-To on that!"

The ultimate goal is to not show judgement or undue curiosity for anybody that asks me questions.  My job is to help them find the information they need, no matter how uncomfortable it is for either/both of us.

But, that nonjudgmental demeanor, combined with politeness, has its pitfalls with those who are so unused to kindness that they misjudge it and take it for flirting. But I guess if I had no challenges, this job wouldn't be nearly so interesting.

I was thinking of getting a shirt that expresses it clearly, though.

What do you think?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Book Review--Library of Souls


I've been waiting so long and we finally got it at the library.  I had the first hold on it so I got the first crack of the spine!

(squeal of delight)

Oh.  Sorry, let me compose myself.


I have been impatiently waiting for the third and final installment of Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to come out.  And it's finally here!  Library of Souls.

Ooooh, even the title sounds creepy.  And with good reason.  If the first book of Miss Peregrine's dipped its toe in the waters of horror writing, and Hollow City waded in it, Library of Souls plunges you right into to some pretty creepy and horrific things.

The peculiar thing is... I still wouldn't classify this as a horror book; I would call it fantasy.  I think it's because the details and vignettes described aren't done for their shock factor or just to make you shudder.*  They are woven into the story and into the action and into the characters' peculiarities to be an acceptable, if unusual for us "normals", part of that world.

I'm not going to go into the plot points but rest assured that Jacob and Emma and the peculiar gang face enormous challenges in this book.  And if the end almost feels disappointing and flat--it's really just because it means the trilogy is over and it's back to the normal unpeculiar world we inhabit.

Full salute to this wonderful, creepy, awful, fantastic series!  Bird knows when we will ever find another story of this caliber.


*Caveat: O.K. the two words that made me shudder that you will understand after reading the book: Mother Dust 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Book Review--Animal Farm

Little wonder this is considered a "classic".

I am slowly working my way through books featured in the Great Books collection and Animal Farm by George Orwell is one of the last entries given in the original list.

Let me begin by saying that I usually shy away from war books and those that deal with a lot of politics.  The latter I don't always understand and the former hurts my heart.

Orwell, as many readers before me have discovered, managed a way to explore the process, psychology and living conditions of governmental upheaval and war without devolving into heart-wrenching graphic depictions that sear pictures into your brain that you can't un-see and un-think.

As an animal lover and dedicated "fur mama", it is easy for me to fall into the personification of animals. I recognize that animals have personalities and their own language so reading an allegory that features them gives me a common ground. But, since I also believe that people are more important* this also give me just a bit of separation so I don't feel the suffering as keenly as I do in books that feature people in horrific situations. So Orwell's use of animals as characters, with people only peripherally in the plot is both accessible and shielded.

I was an oblivious child.  By that, I mean I was cheerful, well-cared for and never needed to think outside of my own little home-school-church triangle.  I was aware of news and some current events in that, I knew big names and some words but since it didn't affect me, I really didn't pay attention to things like the "Cold War" or people like "Gorbachev" they were just concepts floating around my elementary-aged head. But, eventually school and maturity (don't laugh, I've achieved some semblance of it over the years) encroached and I learned about things like communism, socialism, democracy and more. I have even instituted my own form of government at home with my family; my son calls it a "Momarchy". I also hit on some of these topics in various bible studies and discussions over the years, trying to figure out why communism and socialism are almost impossible for humans to maintain indefinitely even if at their heart they seem like good ideas.

But, like many other people, I looked in disbelief on some of the things that happened during those time periods and thought, "How could people let this happen? Don't they see it's wrong?" Animal Farm addresses that concern and more in this allegorical (means a story that means something else) tale. Things don't happen overnight.  There is a gradual build-up and step-by-step acceptance of new things and new ideas.  There is also the element of fear when judiciously wielded by a respected person who comes to power and does not show his nefarious plans in obvious ways. Admit it, things would be easier if bad guys wore black hats, pencil mustaches and chuckled, "heh heh heh" while rubbing their hands together... but it just doesn't work like that.

Reading about the animal members of the community of Animal Farm and sympathizing with their daily lives, talents and limitations, it really brings home how good people can be manipulated into thinking that bad is good and that misery is an acceptable way of life. Human nature is plainly depicted through the animal characters in this powerful book.

*Don't get too riled up about this.  I do believe animals have rights and that humans have an obligation to care for them and their habitats.  But, if there had to be a choice between my children and my dogs, kids and other people come first.