Thursday, April 20, 2017

masked city

The Masked City is book 2 in the Invisible Library Series by Genevieve Cogman, so yes, contrary to what I said last week, I did run right out and get the next two installments in this series, knowing that the next two won't be out for a while.

I think Cogman has come up with a great heroine for young people, even if her character descriptions are a little light. I'm pretty sure Irene is medium height, medium build, with medium brown hair (medium length.) Her sidekick Kai, is a little more visible, with dark hair, piercing eyes, and really handsome and dapper. That's about all you get. Its funny, this is not something I typically notice, so it must be that everyone describes their characters in enough detail that I don't notice, and move on. I tend to think in pictures and I just don't have enough to go on. Genevieve Cogman, I'm looking at you

The majority of this story takes place in an otherworldly Venice, inhabited by some really shady folks, and a group called the Ten something or other, who are extra shady. So shady, that they hardly show up in the story at all. A lot of the folks in this Venice wear masks. The world itself is sort of masked from the rest of reality, and the bad guys behind the bad deeds which ultimately brought Irene to this place, are unknowns, and therefore metaphorically masked. So its a triple entendre.*

This story is fun and light, and overall a good follow up to the first one. It is episodic, so you don't need to read them in order if you'd rather not, but like anything else, they are chronologically organized, so it may make it easier on you to read them as they were released. Its fun to see Irene & Co. unmaskify the place, kick a little ass, and generally take care of business.

I was quickly on to the next installment, my thoughts about which, will follow shortly.


* Once there, they needed to find someplace that ended up being hidden. Its Masks within Masks, within Masks, a la Inception.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

two words for public libraries

My office recently hosted a  library visioning round table discussion on the future of libraries. The topic: Library as Place.

The Wordle (at left) grows from a simple question we asked our participants:* What are two words you think of, when you think of the future of libraries? Community, Flexibility, and Opportunity were the big winners, but all of those other words are great too! This simple question comes from a summary paper of a conference at the Library of Congress in 2014, whose participants were also looking into the future of the library. Some of the participants seemed disappointed that they didn't come up with original words, but I think the fact that a few words were repeated is terrific, and shows that within the library service industry, its pretty clear which direction we're heading. Just looks at some of the other terms that came up: Diverse, Adaptable, Transformational, Evolving. Those are good words!

The overall discussion centered on what public libraries are doing to fill the role of Third Place in the lives of their patrons and users. Whether its for more formal, structured learning and programs, or more casual, drop-in use, the idea that libraries serve in this capacity more and more is a trend that seems to be increasing, even as libraries continue to shed the outdated model of a 'warehouse for books.' It seems pretty clear to those of us who use public libraries, that their need is just as central and vital to the education of the citizenry, even as the services they offer grows and expands to meet the needs of our increasingly interconnected, digitized, and virtual society. And that's really where the magic is: libraries provide that real space, with real human connections, in a world that is increasingly moving away from these types of connections. People want--and I believe, need--these connections, and are looking to the library as one place to get them.

The most pressing need from the library's point of view, is getting that message out to the segment of the populace that still views the library as they did when they were kids. Public libraries are notoriously bad at self-promotion and marketing. Given their budget constraints, and the expertise of the folks running the place, its no wonder that marketing is not something they excel at. Its just not in their wheelhouse, and the budget isn't there to hire the professional help they need to get the message out.

So we meet, we talk, we share, and we attempt to get a ground swell rising. What is the best way to share all of the wonderful things libraries can do? Some of the suggestions from our participants included interesting ways to bring the public into their space, hopefully including some that wouldn't normally come to the library. Ideas included:

Volunteer Fair - All of the local groups that need volunteers set up tables, and potential volunteers shop around for a cause they'd like to help.
Technology Fair - Tables where you can learn about various on-line databases the library offers, along with STEAM, audio/video editing, maker, telescopes, Girls Who Code, and other things available at the library.
Indoor Green Market - At the library, even a baby animal petting zoo in a plastic lined pen!
Town Government Fair - Tables for each department, staffed by town workers who explain what they do and how you can get services.

These, and so many other, from programmable robot dance contests, to simple brochures at the desk titled "I Didn't Know You Had That!" are helping to chip away at the old notions many still hold about what their library is, and what it could be. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Our public libraries are what we make them, and if we don't do it, no one else will either.

Then where would we be?


* My personal thanks to all of the wonderful folks who came out last week to the Lunenburg Public Library last week. We had a great discussion, and I learned a lot. And thanks to Lunenburg for hosting us!




Sunday, April 9, 2017

invisible library

I knew that The Invisible Library was a series before I took it out of the library, tho I didn't know that when I first saw the book on display at another library. When I picked this one off the shelf, there were two more sitting there, so I thought; I'm all set, here they all are.

Nope.

According to Genevieve Cogman's website, volume 4 is in its final edit, and number 5 is in the works. So, my loose, half formed plan more of a good intention, really of not starting a series until its finished, has again, fallen apart. I'm sure authors, and especially publishers would rather I not feel that way, but with so much to read, I figure that I can wait. I think this thinking has caught on with television series; folks wait until a season is complete, and then just freebase the entire season in one sitting with a jumbo bag of cheetos.

Frankly, I can see the traction necessary in the first volume for a larger episodic series, rather than a single story arc, written as a trilogy, for example. I liked it. Its fun, easy to read, has a lot going on, and is carefully crafted so it hangs together nicely. This is Cogman's first novel, but she has worked as a freelance writer on role playing games, so I can see how those skills would translate to a larger storyline, with multiple characters and factions, all of which need to be kept track of, and slowly revealed as relating to the same story. That is not to say that this reads like a video game transcript, but there are some similarities in the general make up of the players, from the Library itself, to mysterious groups like The Iron Brotherhood.

Cogman doesn't spend a lot of time on physical description of her characters, altho details sometimes pop up. Its pretty clear that two of the women in the story are attractive, based on some anecdotal evidence. One is described as looking good enough in both a catsuit, and a gown, to turn heads, and another is propositioned almost immediately by a young man described as handsome. Circumstantial at best.

I think I read this in two days, but after finding out that there is still more work to do, I probably won't run out to the library to get volumes two and three. Amazon lists these books as volumes 2 and 3 of 4, not 5, as I mentioned Cogman's website said, so there may have been some mission creep in the writing OR some cash cow milking going on.




Saturday, April 8, 2017

conversion

Conversion is, according to Katherine Howe's description in the backmatter of this book, a mash-up of a case of conversion disorder that had recently hit the news, and her re-reading of The Crucible in a class she was teaching. She has woven together the story of the Salem witch trials with a modern outbreak of conversion disorder suffered by a number of high school students.

The stories aren't connected so much as they are strung along in tandem so that the reader can draw their own parallels and conclusions. And if it sounds like I'm giving away a little more of the plot lines than I usually do, its only because everyone knows the Salem witch trails, and I don't think anyone will be surprised to hear how that ends.

I guess this falls into the teen lit category. It was a fast read, and there were some fun parts, but I didn't love it. There was some insight into how high school girls behave, especially around each another, that rang true to me.


Friday, March 31, 2017

lions and lambs: revised

yeah, lamb skull. poor little guy.
Unfortunately, New England weather has not cooperated this year, and March, IS NOT, going out like a lamb. Nor did any of the days betwixt and between the proverbial lion and lamb, resemble any of the tamer animals, lovingly chosen to represent the normal damp, muddy, sunny, or breezy days of the Marches of yore.

Its was lions every day.

So I've revised the 'lion to lamb' calendar, so its a little closer to what we've had this year.





March 1 - Lion
March 2 - Lion
March 3 - Lion
March 4 - Lion
March 5 - Lion
March 6 - Lion
March 7 - Lion
March 8 - Lion
March 9 - Lion
March 10 - Lion
March 11 - Lion
March 12 - Lion
March 13 - Lion
March 14 - Lion. Blizzard. Nice.
March 15 - Lion
March 16 - Lion
March 17 - Lion
March 18 - Lion
March 19 - Lion
March 20 - Lion, with a first day of spring banner on. And snow.
March 21 - Lion
March 22 - Lion
March 23 - Lion
March 24 - Lion
March 25 - Lion
March 26 - Lion
March 27 - Lion
March 28 - Lion
March 29 - Lion
March 30 - Lion
March 31 - Lion, with a snow storm, that will last until tomorrow (April 1st!)

The March 31st lion is all fat and happy from devouring the poor little lamb, and it looks like it'll be around for a little while longer, just to kick our collective, freezing, behinds.

Cold? I took the average daily temperatures recorded in Boston for the month, and averaged those for the month of March. Know what I got? 34.29 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here's hoping for next year!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

esau

Esau is your typical action-adventure story, with a Speculative Fiction slant. Its got some loosey-goosey science (cue sexy scientist, looking to publish her break out paper) and some action-adventure, in the form of Himalayan mountain climbing (cue sexy mountain climber, and sometimes bed mate of sexy scientist.)

You get it. Its fast, its fun, its action, its adventure. Its like bubble gum: tasty, easy to chew, doesn’t take a lot of effort.

So, sexy mountain climber (SMC) goes for a hike in the mountains, and suffers a tragedy, and after returning, seeks solace with sexy scientist (SS) and has doubts about whether or not he still has what it takes to be the SMC he has always been. Whilst suffering from said tragedy, SMC happens upon a scientific oddity in the mountains, that he believes SS would like. SS indeed likes, and proposes a scientific excursion to site of SMCs tragedy.

Cue drama and doubt, mixed with determination, and excitement.

Philip Kerr’s name looked familiar, but a quick glance at his previously published works in the front matter of this book did not foster the same feelings of familiarity. So another quick look on his Goodreads page indicates that Kerr has written 30 something books, and I have indeed read Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton, which was pretty good. I don’t see it listed here in the blog, so I must have read it a while ago.

I bought this book used at the Westborough Library book sale for a dollar, or something, so it worked out great.



Monday, March 20, 2017

melancholy whores

Memories of My Melancholy Whores might be a novella, but I guess that depends on how you feel about the term. Is this book a long short story, or a short novel? This is definitely a stand-alone story, in a beautifully bound Borzoi Book by Knopf, written by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Edith Grossman.

This story is about and old man, written by and old man. So you might expect that some of that old man's dreams may leak over into the other. And that's exactly what this story is; the last best dream of a lonely old man.

I don't know Gabriel García Márquez, so I don't pretend to know what he feels about being older, and I have no idea whether he's similar to the character in this story or not. lets assume, not What I can tell you is, this book is both softly sad, and sometimes sweet.

The main character is a proud, accomplished, but ultimately lonely man, who never had time, or maybe never made the time, for love and instead satisfied his urges by visiting prostitutes or maybe even worse, having sex with women and just treating them like prostitutes. For his 90th birthday, he decides that maybe he should revisit his younger, rakish days, and visit a prostitute. So he calls an old madam and asks for a virgin. The old madam finds him a 14 year old girl, who sews buttons at the local factory to help support her family.

Maybe this is written with a view to (or from) a different era, but pig-child-molester is a phase that comes to mind. But this is literature, so I'll put that away for now, and try to look at this from an artistic point of view. I suppose the girl represents his lost youth, and folly when it comes to love. Because now, he finds that--even though he never touches the girl, other than a little kissing of her body its just art, its just art, its just art--he finds that he can finally begin to feel what it would have been like to love as a young man.

What follows is a crazed obsession, and while the writing is interesting, and the translation reads well, I'm just not sure what else I'm supposed to feel. I mean, I guess its nice that the old duffer finally gets to feel, but I'm not sure why it couldn't have been an 18 or 19 year old woman. Still vulgar, but not horrific. Again, maybe its a cultural thing, and this certainly could have been set back in the day. They do talk about newspapers as a going concern, so it could have been 50 years ago in Spain or Mexico (I don't recall.) Was this kind of thing socially acceptable then?

They made a movie in 2011, based on this 2004 book! In the movie, the girl is 20. I don't think it would (could!) have been made if she wasn't. Another interesting tidbit, the flower on the book jacket was added to the American edition, to cover up the exposed breast of the model. Like it wasn't bad enough, dude.


Friday, March 17, 2017

hunchback

I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame a few weeks ago, and forgot to write about it. I was about halfway through before I realized that was reading an abridged version. After finishing, I might be glad it was abridged. A little too repetitive, if that's the right word. Seems like every time it looked like La Esmeralda is going to catch a break, she falls back into it. And that seems to be the case with all of the main characters. ah! oooh... ah! oooh... ah! oooh. like a hundred times

Written by Victor Hugo in 1831; translation by Lowell Bair in 1958. This is an old Bantam paperback that has been kicking around for a while. Looks like the type of book that was handed out to high school students in the 70s by the millions.

I'm not sure what was abridged out of this story, but it certainly seemed like there was plenty of fat left. This could have been a wildly successful novella, but then maybe the fault lies in the translation; what do I know.

La Esmeralda is a young gypsy girl, living in Paris, in the 1400s. She can be found dancing with her trained pet goat in the plaza before the Notre Dame cathedral, where she has caught the eye of a holy man (who should know better) and his adopted foundling son, Quasimodo,* who lives and works at Notre Dame as the bell ringer.

There are thieves, kidnappings, hangings and public torture, uprisings, alchemy, stabbings, weddings, unfaithfulness, corruption, malfeasance, knavery, assault, insanity, loss, blasphemy, unrequited love, obsession, and... repeat.

So I guess you could read it, if you have to. If you do, and you read a different translation, I'd love to hear about it.



*  Quasimodo gets his name from the day he was found: Quasimodo Sunday, or the Octave of Easter. It comes from the first two words (in Latin) of the prayer for the day: "Quasi modo..." which means, basically, "like this."



Sunday, March 12, 2017

chained

Sam Jones is apparently a recurring character in Lauren Henderson's books. There are a series of Sam Jones mystery novels, set in England. that's where Henderson is from This novel--and the main protagonist--is  hip, witty, tough, and sexy. Sam Jones, like many in her imagined line of work, fall into crime scenes, especially murder, at an alarming rate. If Jones and her contemporaries really did see as many murders as they do, I think the police would be watching them a little more closely. If you're on holiday, and you see Jones, Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, or anyone else like that coming up the boardwalk, make tracks! Your chances are grim.

Jones is a sculptor, who happens to be between sculptures right now, and is doing a stint on a TV show, standing in for an actress, whose character is actually based on Jones. So Jones does the standing in when it comes time to do some welding, grinding, cutting, and various other studio busy work. Then she trains up the star to hold the tools properly for the close ups. Nice gig. 

Oh, and she's also banging a movie star.

The writing is quick, fun, and doesn't give too much away. Its not your typical whodunit, where all of the evidence is presented throughout the story, and then crushingly revealed in the third act, making the reader feel like a dolt, albeit a satisfied one. All in all, Chained was pretty good. If you're into this sort of thing, there are a bunch of these out there.