Wednesday, January 25, 2012

library material

Its not yours... its ours.

Soon, the question may not be so much about how we catalog, access, store and generally treat library materials, the question may be a much simpler one: what library materials?

It is true that information that was once contained only in books is becoming more and more digitized, resulting in the very material-ness of information slowing fading into the past. But the time when all of the physical items that we store in, and lend out of our libraries, evaporates into memory, is not here yet.

In the meantime, we have library materials. Analog, baby. But its not just books anymore, and I'm sure we all know that, but what seems to have escaped us as a public-library-using society, is that even though the materials have changed, the way we use them has not.

But it should.

Books, frankly, can take a beating. On the surface, books seem pretty delicate. They're made of paper (generally) and other natural materials, easily ripped, folded, or marked up. They are susceptible to broken bindings, lost pages, water damage, rot, and even flames. But walk into your local library and you'll easily find volumes that are 30, 50, even 100 years old. Standing in stodgy defiance of our notions of their delicacy, they are still readable, and as fully functional as the day they were added to the collection. What differs today, is the more modern technologies used to deliver library content. These newer materials are certainly new-fangled and very techie, but seldom are they as durable as a 50-year-old book.

Books are easy: You can drop a book on the coffee table, throw it in your bag, read it at the beach, even set it on the sand. Try that with a DVD. Or a Kindle. Good luck! I'm not complaining about these new technologies, I love them! actually, I don't love ereaders. * I just wish they worked when I take them home from my library. But they don't work, because they've been damaged by careless handling.

Did you get a little of that popcorn grease on the book you took out of the library? Or did you drop it on the floor in the dark, and then kick it? While this may be a problem if everyone does it to library books, the truth is, if it does happen now and again, we can still all read and enjoy that book. Not so with a DVD, CD and maybe even an eReader. You need to be MORE careful with these materials, because unlike our old (old!) friend, the book, info-tech delivery systems are typically delicate.

You like to eat a bag of Cheetos, or a bucket of KFC while watching a movie? Have at it. But wash your hands before smearing up the DVD. Grease will wash off, but it also attracts dust and dirt, which can scratch, and scratches don't wash off. And that's bad.

you may be confusing DVDs with hockey pucks.
hint: hockey pucks are black.

And don't think you can just set a disk down, just for a second, on your coffee table, which is really, really clean! Because it isn't, and you won't, and it it will get ruined, and you know it will. Can't find the box it came in? Put it back in your player, put down your Funyuns and find it. This level of responsibility is what you agreed to when you borrowed this material from the library. Its an implied contract that you've made with the library and all of its users (us!) So do your job.

Here's some advice from the Kindle Fire User's Manual:

" could break if the device is dropped or receives a substantial impact. If the glass breaks, chips, or cracks, stop using your Kindle Fire and do not touch or attempt to remove the damaged glass."

Ooooo... yeah, you're done. Oh, and don't leave it where it could get hot or cold, like in your car. Because its not a book, and when you do, you could ruin it.

And its not yours... its ours.

* I might love eReaders; I don't know, I've never used one.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

seven samurai

I just watched Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai), directed by Akira Kurosawa. Classic, 1954 black and white drama of good guys vs. the bad guys... against overwhelming odds.

I didn't really stop to think about what a carefully--and patiently--constructed film this is, until the intermission reel ran about halfway through and I thought, hasn't it been over an hour? A little more actually, was the answer; this epic is 3 hours, 27 minutes. And what's so wonderful about that? I think its actually what The Lord of the Rings movies were missing: quiet time.

In contrast to the LOTR books, the movies--even though they're of similar length as the Seven Samurai--seem to be non-stop action. So much action, that there isn't time for the mind to rest and consider the tensions, the characters, and the other subtleties that make up a well constructed narrative.

Kurosawa takes his time building his story and his characters, so that when the final battle scenes come, we go into the battle with full knowledge of who these people are, how they feel and what drives them. But the final battle scene is not the only action in the film, there is a balance of drama, character building, conversation, humor and action throughout, along with some very nice camera shots along the way.

There are three scenes focused on women, for example, that not only work as contrast to the general masculinity of this picture, but are so subtle, and yet so powerful. Two of them don't even have any dialog, yet Kurosawa and his actresses bring these scenes to life and the story pours from the screen, wordlessly. Breathtaking.

I had heard that Seven Samurai was a classic, but I'm not enough of a film buff to fully understand its place in film history, which is apparently pretty high falutin'. Seven Samurai shows up on some serious ten best films of all time lists. Seven Samurai was the basis of the 1960 American film, The Magnificent Seven.

And before we close, a little praise, and some apropos ranting:

Thanks to my local public library for having such a great DVD collection! And thanks to everyone who either: didn't take this movie out because its old, or sub-titled, OR did take it out and had sense enough not to manhandle the disk.

I mean, who scratches a borrowed disk? Especially a library disk, that belongs to all of us? Y'all need a lesson in implied social contractual obligations. You know, how your rights to borrow a DVD from the library are inextricably* bound to your obligations to treat said DVD (book, map, magazine, et al) with respect, even reverence. yeah, i said it

You know what? I think the care and treatment of library materials warrants its own post.

Peace. Oh, and see this movie. Like, now.

* Unavoidably, inescapably, indissolubly, indivisibly, ineluctably... bound!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I don't read a lot of books like this one, but it was good. The Birth of Venus is an historical novel set in the Florence of the Medici, during the time when Friar Savonarola came to be the spiritual leader of the city and tried to bring about the New Jerusalem. Botticelli's Birth of Venus actually turns up in the story, but only in passing, and only by reference. It's the turmoil of Florence that really acts as the backdrop for this story about a young girl who grows to womanhood amidst it. I think its fair to categorize this story as Romantic with a capital R, but it certainly isn't a bodice ripper. I've tried, I just don't like them.

The Romance in this story seems to be mainly this young woman's hopes for her future and how she'll find her way in the male-dominated society she finds herself in, especially when she dreams of a life which is simply not open to women. And the New Jerusalem thing isn't helping.

So, if the Medici/Savonarola era of Florence is the backdrop, and the plot is centered on the hopes and dreams of a young woman, then the engine that moves the story forward is art. Art is what our young heroine longs for: to experience, learn about, and (heaven forfend) to practice it herself. The scribblings of a child are a thing that Florencian society is willing to overlook, but a grown woman involved in art? Out of the question.

It appeared to me that a fair amount of research went into this book, and the feeling of what life might have been like during that time in Florence was what I enjoyed the most.

Monday, January 9, 2012

shutter island

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane was made into a movie a few years ago with Leonardo DiCaprio. I didn't see it.

After reading, I can see why they decided to make a movie with this book, it has some great plot twists and storyline surprises that would probably lend themselves pretty well to a visual storytelling. Maybe I'll check out the movie at some point and see for myself.

I've read a few of Dennis Lehane's books recently, but this is the first that hasn't featured his private investigation duo. This story features a US Marshall and is set in the 1950s, but is still set in Massachusetts, where Lehane comes from. They say write what you know, so it makes sense. King has Maine, and Irving has New Hampshire, right? Lehane writes about Massachusetts, and that local connection is fun for me I guess, altho I don't think I've ever been to any of the Harbor Islands. George's Island is supposed to be nice, in a field-trippy kind of way.

Shutter Island takes place over the course of just a few days, but the story is tense, and filled with a kind of smoldering tension. I series of small sub-plots color the story, and the main protagonist is dealing with his own demons, which impact his decision making more than he cares to admit. Lehane rolls the story out carefully, revealing the mysteries of Shutter Island a little at a time, and in such a way that we're not quite sure what all of its secrets are until the end.

I liked this one a lot. Read this book.

I've got an idea! Did you see the movie AND read the book? If so, tell us which one you liked better.

Friday, January 6, 2012

mountains of freedom

Mountains of Freedom is a small, privately published memoir written by a South African ex-POW about his experiences in Lybia, Italy and Germany during World War II. Martin Schou was in the battle of Tobruk, Lybia when nazi Field Marshall Rommel overwhelmed the allied forces there and retook Tobruk. Schou, and thousands of other allied forces, were rounded up and shipped to Italy to concentration camps.

For over a year, Schou was imprisoned, occasionally moving from camp to camp until he found himself on a working farm in northern Italy alongside a group of young, Italian women. Schou was very fond of the ladies after being in a concentration camp, so it wasn't too long before young Martin learned to speak Italian.

When the armistice came in September of 1943, Schou was released from the northern Italian working farm, and headed for the allied troops who had landed in southern Italy.

On foot.

This adventure, told in a series of stories or remembrances, has a glow about it that I think must come from the mellowing of years. Schou spent a number of years away from his home in South Africa in the service, and some of those years as a prisoner of war, but looking back from a current age of nearly 80 (in 1998 when the story was written) has warmed and softened the story so that it contains very little horror. The horror is there, but Schou doesn't seem to dwell on it too much.

What Martin Schou does dwell on are the relationships he formed with the local people in Italy as he made his way down the Italian peninsula through the Apennines. At almost every step of the way, the poor mountain people of iItaly helped, hid, clothed, fed and directed Schou and many others on there way. And it was dangerous. The Italians had given up and surrendered to the Allies, but Hitler had filled Italy with hundreds of thousands of German troops, who took control of the concentration camps only days after the armistice, and patrolled the streets throughout Italy, and could have shot Schou if he was discovered.

Schou's adventures had their ups and downs, but he obviously made it home eventually to settle down, start a family and write his book. The stories are lovingly told, by a man who knows he's not a writer but felt obligated to tell his story and to say thank you to the simple people who helped him, just because he needed help.

His book is both a thank you note, and a love letter to Italy and the people who saved him.

This book isn't for sale in bookstores* that I've found. We bought a copy at a fundraiser to support local communities while we were in Italy. Martin Schou spent quite a bit of time in and around Sulmona, Italy and he met people there who helped him do the research for his book, and I think that's why we found it there.

* I got one hit. Mountains of Freedom is included in this list of military books from a South African bookstore. Its number 152, and its listed as sold for 195 South African Rand (about $24 US).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

last surgeon

Good story. Writing... myeeehh.

Michael Palmer is just a guy with a regular job who fancies himself a writer. you me But its hard to argue with him; he's written a bunch of books, and is rather popular, I understand. unlike me My biggest problem: people just don't talk like that... or act like that. Do they?

So, like any good story, we've got conflict. The good guys vs. the bad guys. The bad guys are personified by the baddest of the bad, his boss, and a few hangers on; lets call them minions. One of these minions is a career G-man who makes his way in the world by denying benefits to those who need them, and is generally an all-around hater. On a clandestine trip to the zoo for some cloak and dagger rendezvous with his boss, our minion sees a kid with his mom, who have absolutely nothing to do with the scene. Have a looksee:

"Hi Gorilla!" the boy called out. "Can you say hello?"
The boy's mother, a modestly dressed, somewhat frumpy woman in her late thirties, knelt down beside the youth to encourage his exuberance. MacCandliss cringed.
"It's not a parrot," he said to the child. "It's an ape, and apes don't talk."
[At this point the kid turns around to check out our minion and loses his hold on his balloon. Our hater is quite satisfied, and when the mother scolds him for not being 'very nice' our guy replies like so:]
"But it was nevertheless, madam, the truth," he said, handing her a ten. "Good day."

Sooo... am I right? "Good day"? Are you kidding me? Nobody does that. And for the record, this unnecessary little sidebar does not show me, the reader, what a bad dude this guy is. In two sentences he goes from evil bastard to pathetic idiot.

And while I'm ranting, what is it about lawyers (Palmer is a doctor) and writing? It seems to me that a bunch of the crime novels I've read are written by guys who worked as lawyers and now are cranking out crime novels. Is it the access to crime? Is it the money and/or good education (which may also explain Dr. Palmer)? How many bios have I read that start out: "So-and-so is a practicing lawyer, has two-and-a half kids..."

Anytho... I had piss and moan about something, right? But as I said earlier, this was generally a good book. you remember I said that right? I can wait if you want to back and look. The story WAS good, and I burned through this book in no-time. So maybe I wouldn't rush out and buy everything this guy ever wrote; but I would pick up another book-sale paperback, and throw my buck in the jar, no sweat.