Thursday, March 24, 2011

Crazy Uncle Steve vs. The Library

I've never been a library guy. They make me vaguely uneasy. I believe this stems from bad childhood memories of research projects gone wrong. Back when computers were just an expensive novelty that only a few uber nerds knew how to use, we had to get all of our information from either The Library, or Crazy Uncle Steve who knew everything and smelled like cheap whiskey. Putting Steve in the bibliography of my History essay was problematic so I was forced to mine facts from the rows of thick tomes under the silent, malevolent gaze of The Librarian. We were taught to fear the wrath of The Librarian, who had been known to cook and eat little boys and girls who damaged books, made too much noise or didn't return things on time.

I'm more of a bookstore guy. They don't give anything away for free so there are no trust issues. You can make as much noise as you want and if you want to buy a book, take it home and deface it that's your prerogative. I'm also less likely to finish a book I didn't pay for and the thin plastic coating they put on all the hardcovers makes me angry. I can't say why, it just does.

However, there is one little corner of the library that I love. A little nook tucked away from the judgmental gaze of the Librarian where loud noises are not the exception, they are the rule. My daughter and I have been spending some time in the oasis that is the Children's Section and it is becoming one of our favorite places to play. It is filled with unfamiliar toys and unfamiliar little people fooling around with them. It is also the home to some of the best books in the whole place (and no plastic book condoms either). We found something on our last trip that has been the source of laughter in our house for weeks now:

I have a newfound respect for my local public library. Not only is it a cultural hub of the community, it is also the home of hard to find literary masterworks like The Dumb Bunnies. It still can't spin a yarn like Crazy Uncle Steve, but it also never called me a Communist and shoved me when I had to take it's car keys away at noon.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

When Fantasy Goes Wrong

Now that I am deep into one of the best fantasy novels to come along in forever it got me thinking about some of the worst. There is no middle road in this genre; books with dragons, elves and fairy princesses on the cover are one of two things: Great escapist fiction brimming with social commentary, or a big steaming pile of Ogre poop. The fantasy novel one-off is harder to find than the One Ring, so when you buy one of these books, get ready to buy at least three more in the unforeseeable future just to get some story resolution.  The following represents an example of this genre going very, very wrong. It is also a painful memory from my childhood that I won't get into here....

The good old Wheel of Time series by James Oliver Rigney, Jr. (a.k.a Robert Jordan). I read the first book when I was about fifteen and I couldn't wait to get the next one or two and finish the story. Now take a look at all those books in that picture up there and guess if I ever finished it. Keep in mind that the first one was released in 1990 and the final book IS STILL FORTHCOMING. I don't mean to be insensitive, bearing in mind that the author passed away in 2007 before he could pen the final book(s). The problem I have with this series is that after reading six of them the loose ends just got looser, the cast of characters just got bigger and the whole thing started to feel like a daytime soap opera that was meant to go on forever. I guess I will never know if Rand fulfills the prophecy and defeats the Dark One or whatever and the true tragedy is, I no longer even care.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

For the Girls

In honor of International Women's Day I thought I would share a few novels that feature great female protagonists. Here are three of my favorites, in no particular order:

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

Naomi Nickel is not your average Mennonite. She is a 16-year old malcontent who consistently pushes the limits of her cult-like community. A community that would not seem out of place featured in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Her family is slowly disappearing one member at a time into the abyss of excommunication and Naomi is not sure she wants to join them. It would mean leaving her father behind. The whole thing is wonderfully quirky and more than a little sad.

Even Cowgirls get the Blues by Tom Robbins

Sissy Hankshaw has giant thumbs and she`s okay with that. For her it is a matter of fate. What would a girl with sausage sized thumbs be fated to do? Become the world's greatest hitchhiker, of course. Her highway odyssey eventually leads her to the Rubber Rose Ranch, a western-themed feminine hygiene spa that has been taken over by the all girl staff and converted to a "real" ranch for cowgirls. In typical Tom Robbins style, the pages are bursting with playful language and philosophical musings.

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neil

This is the coming of age story of a little girl named Baby. Sounds sweet and heartwarming, right? Only if your little black heart is warmed by things like heroine addiction and prostitution. Needless to say, this is not a story about a spoiled little girl who cries because she doesn't get a pony for her birthday. Baby is in and out of foster homes, is taken advantage of by drug dealers and eventually starts selling her body for heroine. It is the kind of story that we are always seeing the end results of on the evening news. Tragedy of the "how could this happen" variety. But there is redemption here as well and a character with more strength and determination than any macho male super soldier.

What would a hopeless guy like me do without all the wonderful women in my life? Where would any of us be without the contributions of intelligent, nurturing women? We would probably just sit around scratching ourselves and fighting over the best brand of nacho dip. Not the kind of world I want my daughter growing up in, that's for sure.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Need a Laugh?

Spring is taking an awful long time getting here. Scraping the windshield of the car sucks all the joy out of life and if I have to shovel the driveway again I'm going to opt to walk wherever I'm going instead. We could all use a good laugh. Here is my suggestion:

It looks like a bible. It feels like a bible. It is most definitely not a bible. It is the story of Jesus Christ's "forgotten years". In the Old Testament version we witness his birth, then we don't see him again until he is fully grown. What happened in those formative teenage years? Did he have buddies? Drink too much wine and go donkey tipping? Lamb by Christopher Moore sets out to answer those questions. It is told from the perspective of Biff, his best friend, and it is absolutely hilarious and at times, quite touching without ever feeling like complete blasphemy. If your sense of humor tips towards the Monty Python direction it is the perfect cure for the winter blues.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Wait is Over

The bookstore called yesterday to tell me my Patrick Rothfuss novel was in. Hurrah! Life being what it is right now though, I didn't have time to retrieve it. If I could just train the dog to change diapers and send a clone to work every night in my place I'd be all set. But alas, it is not so.

Finding a little free time, I went to pick it up today. I gave my name to a friendly member of the staff and she went to haul the massive cinder block thing to the counter. I love big books. Bookstore employees probably wouldn't share my enthusiasm if they had to schlep around The Wise Man's Fear all day. 

To my surprise, it was already paid for. There was a little note inside:

I want this when you are finished. 

The only thing better than a book you have been waiting a long time to read is a generous parent who has been waiting even longer. Thanks dad. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Truck

I hope I can change my "Currently Reading" widget to this soon:

My little local bookstore is expecting The Truck today. The Truck comes every Tuesday and delivers presents to all the good little book lovers who eat all their vegetables and finish reading all their tedious literary novels (I could be in trouble here, see post below).

Maybe The Truck will overlook my past transgressions and bring me what I want. The telephone will be ringing any minute with news that I have been found worthy. The Truck will have a little box full of goodies for me tucked in behind the giant skid of Justin Bieber autobiographies. OH! It's the phone...Hang on........

Damn Telemarketers! If I was willing and able to take a Caribbean cruise, I'D CALL YOU!