Sunday, March 21, 2010

Good Bad Guys & Bad Good Guys

Yesterday I did something I rarely do: in a few hours I read a 300 page novel from cover to cover. I usually characterize myself as a moderate reader speed-wise but yesterday was different.

I cruised through Gone ‘Til November by Wallace Stroby. I think my ability to read the novel quickly might be due to Mr. Stroby’s skill as a former newspaper writer and editor rather then my skill as a speed reader.

The book is a murder mystery based on an event that brings together a few sheriffs deputies in rural northern Florida with gangsters from Newark, NJ and big city southern Florida. Some of the events and background are predicable, but that provides the reader with a starting-off point with each character. We already know stuff about these folks before we even open the book. The story moved along quickly with a few twists and turns until everything climaxes in the final dozen or so pages.

In the story, the two main antagonists are individuals who we might normally easily type-cast. We have a bad guy who on occasion does good or at least “honorable” things and a good guy who does bad or “despicable” things. To add to the confusion the bad guy often does terrible things to horrible people, implying that they deserve exactly what they get, and the good guy has done only one bad thing that has lead to the complete downward spiral of his life. Of course, we find that the protagonist of the story has had a love interest relationship with one antagonist and in a weird sort of way develops a concerned relationship while trading pistol shots with the other.

However, the murder and mayhem depicted throughout the story is not what I was thinking about once I had closed the covers. It was the idea that we have now transmuted a “Robin Hood” type character so thoroughly. The concept of the good person forced to be an outlaw who does only good has been transformed here into a person who doesn’t have the baggage of the good person forced into banditry. Being on the wrong side of the law is where this individual intended to be all along. And as another twist, in the “Dirty Harry” movies we have a cop who “lives by his own rules” to do good and we’re all now very familiar with that individual. In this story we have the same individual, living by his own rules, who uses his talents for nefarious purposes and does bad.

There was plenty of eye-brow raising and internal confusion on my part all along the way. And once finished I had a couple of questions including: who really was the intended protagonist of the book? I could also be easily reading way more into the book then the author indented. There are plenty of chase scenes, lots of gunplay, along with sex, drugs and reggae music coupled with enough back stories among the characters to keep the reader busy for a while. So you might want to mosey over to the Seven-Day Book Shelf and give the read a spin.

If you’ve read a book that left you scratching your head about the motives of the characters lately, be sure to post a comment.

See you at the Library,

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Stranger In A Strange Land

Whenever I’m traveling I always make it a point to go to the local library. I’ve visited libraries throughout New England, the South, the Far West and Alaska. Sometimes it’s the main and sometimes it’s a branch. It’s not hard to locate a library when you’re traveling but a quick internet search is usually a good idea. You can get directions and also find out the hours of operation prior to your trip.

I do have a loose criteria of things I look for whenever I visit a new library. A good place to start is to determine if the building is open and inviting. Lots of windows and plenty of artificial lighting help in this area. Next, can you easily figure out where things are? The main circ desk is almost always right in front of you so that’s easy to locate. You might then need to wander around a bit to find things, but that’s all to the good. I usually look for, in no particular order, adult fiction, non-fiction, main reading room, periodicals, public computer terminals, children’s room and rest rooms.

Once I’ve figured out where these places are I often walk thought each section looking for particulars: Is their a separate young adult section? Is there a separate rest room for children? Are the public computers located near the main reading room? Are there places for reference or research? Do you have to use stairs to get to certain collections? Is there a paperback section? Is the main collection divided into different genre such as mysteries, thrillers, westerns or are they all mixed together. Most local libraries also have something unique about themselves or their community. So, for fun, I try to figure out what that might be. And I look for a public coffee station.

But there is more to a library then mere bricks and books. Once in, you want to figure out what is expected of you. Many public libraries now refer to themselves as the “community’s living room”. As you might have guessed this is a hotly debated issue in library publications and among boards and staff. It quickly gets to the heart of what a community expects from their library and what a library can expect from it’s patrons. Since you are a stranger in a strange land and do not wish to roil the natives by committing a faux pas what is an unsuspecting visitor to do in these uncharted waters? Never fear, an easy way to determine if you’re going to be shushed or smiled at is to figure out what is the appropriate volume for speaking. By doing so you will have a good indication of what this particular library expects from you. And in return you now hold the key to what will allow you to have the most pleasant experience possible while visiting this particular library. Just remember the appropriate volume level may change depending on which section of the library you’re in and when in doubt do what any gracious visitor does: take the cue from your host.

If you’ve visited a cool library be sure to add a comment.

Monday, March 1, 2010

We Don’t Track That Information

A fair number of folks who come up to the circulation desk ask for a copy of their library record or all the books that have been taken out using a specific card.

As a rule there is no nefarious purpose behind these questions. Usually the person is a daughter/son, father/mother, granddaughter/grandson, niece/nephew of a card holder who cannot get to the library. I see them about once a week and what they are doing is supplying their relative with books to read. Naturally what they are interested in is keeping up a fresh supply of new, or at least new to the reader, books for their loved one to enjoy and they don’t want to bring home repeats.

So when they ask for a list of items borrowed by the card holder they are usually disappointed by my answer: “We don’t keep that information.”

We don’t keep it because to do so is considered an invasion of the person’s privacy. Librarians take this issue quite seriously. A very easy way to get a bunch of librarians pretty fired-up is to suggest that libraries should track the reading habits of others. You will see a group of normally sedate, unflappable individuals become very agitated. And they will start rattling off phrases that contain words like: Bill of Rights, Privacy of the Individual and Foundations of American Democracy. In my experience, it is usually best not to make the suggestion in the first place. And even if the individual card holder did authorize a library to keep track of his/her reading habits we couldn’t do it. All library software is written so that no one is able to track what you have taken out in the past. This concept also holds true for using the public computers at the library. After you log off and again when the computers are shut down at the end of the day, all of the records of sites visited are purged.

But, back to the books. So what can someone do to track their own or their loved ones reading habits? An easy solution would be to buy a binder and just write down the title and authors of the books checked out. But that seems so 1980s.

Here is another solution. There are a number of websites that will track your reading habits for you, offer addition titles that you might enjoy based on what you have selected and give you the opportunity to join book discussion groups and blogs based on your reading habits. Welcome to the expanded services of a web-enabled reading community! Here are two sites that are worth investigating:

If you know of another web site that offer different services to readers feel free to add a post.