Monthly Archives: August 2010

Library Materials

No Library Materials in the Restrooms

Really? Really? Is this something we have to tell people? I am mystified by this sign on the library bathroom door. Are people bringing books in there? Why?

Ok, I know why. But this is not the privacy of anybody’s own home, so I’m thinking that no one would seriously bring reading materials into the public restroom.

Obviously, I’m wrong. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a sign. But you have to admit, The Library Materials would be a great name for a band.


The Library Materials with their first single, "Dewey to Me One More Time"

Other signage I feel we could do without:

 My state has a concealed carry law, so citizens are out there roaming around armed. Very important in my small, suburban town, where one could easily be attacked even in broad daylight by a gang of rampaging squirrels.

The bank, and the library and the churches and the temple all have these please-don’t-bring-your-gun-inside notices stuck on the doors. It sort of reminds me of that old country song, and makes me feel a bit like I’m living in the old west.

Maybe we should post a please-check-your-gun-at-the-door notice at the bookshop. We could use the old umbrella stand for rifles, and get a hat rack for balaclavas, hockey masks, and Halloween Nixon-faces. Hmm…

Please place smaller weapons in basket.

It’s harder to know what to do with sawed-offs and pistols. They’d just rattle around at the bottom of the umbrella stand and somebody might put their eye out on the barrel of a .22 while reaching in for their glock. I’m thinking a nice Longaberger basket, attractively perched on a slim end table, for the smaller weapons. Cuz you know, that would be tasteful.


Filed under sort of about books

Russian Summer

As the days grow shorter, I’m looking forward to the release of these two books.

Russian Winter, by Daphne Kalotay, is a book to curl up with. Forget getting anything done once you start this novel. I suggest laying in some good black tea and various sustaining provisions before you begin. Otherwise, you will find yourself eating odd crusts of bread and leftovers of dubious provenance, unwilling to leave this story and go out to eat.

This glittering saga unfolds the lives of three people brought together by the auction of a famous ballerina’s gems. Nina Revskaya, former principal dancer at the Bolshoi, flees to the West during the height of Stalin’s regime. Decades later, she prepares to auction off her collection of jewels to benefit the Boston Ballet. Each piece written up for the auction’s catalog brings us closer to deciphering the contradictions and secrets of her past.

At first I was tempted to skip over the other character’s parts in this book. Nina Revskaya and the U.S.S.R. of her youth are vivid and fascinating and immerse the reader in a world few of us in the West know much about. But give it time – soon Drew, the auction house associate and Grigori, a professor with a special interest in Russian poetry, start to charm as well.

It’s enough to make this bookseller wish for snow. It comes out in September.

The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, translated by Cathy Porter and with a shockingly insightful introduction by Doris Lessing, leaves me dazed and amazed and with a whole host of seemingly unanswerable questions.

Don’t get me wrong, I like it. Here’s something of a play-by-play (Those of you for whom circumstances of the Tolstoys’ lives are old news, please forgive me; I remain woefully ignorant in any number of ways.):

Sofia Behrs marries Leo Tolstoy when she is very young and he is… not.

He has A Past, and insists on sharing it, all of it, in the form of his youthful diaries, with her, his eighteen-year-old bride-to-be. His intelligent, artistic, sheltered, religious bride-to-be. Imagination and a clear moral code cannot have been a real asset while reading these.

She marries him anyway and is promptly hied off to the Tolstoy estate just east of the back of beyond.

He asks her to keep a diary as well, and stipulates that in this way, they will share their inmost thoughts with one another.

Sweet Mother of God…

I am amazed at the delicate clarity of Sofia Tolstoy’s prose. She records both passionate feeling and mundane occurrences with grace and precision.

And I am dismayed by the impossibility of gauging the truthfulness of a diary intended both for oneself and another. Some entries can only be confessions of the most abject and intimate sort. Others make me wonder about a supposedly candid diarist’s opportunity to manipulate the intended reader. What an untangleable nest of knots. What is intended, and for whom? This quandary is only part of what makes The Diaries irresistible.

If they weren’t 656 pages long, this would be a wonderful undertaking for book clubs. The potential for wonderment at and dissection of the Tolstoys’ relationship are endless, and probably only improve in a group of friends over a bottle of wine.

The diaries have gaps — of years in places, months in others. They were written during some of the most turbulent years of Russian history (which is saying something), and chronicle a life married to a difficult, irascible genius, a controversial superstar of his time, in a style that was either much informed by his skill, or stellar to start with, or both. Sofia Tolstoy has a great deal to teach us about her world and about marriage itself. You can get yourself the paperback edition of this one in September too.

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Filed under about books


A while ago, before I folded and made a doctor’s appointment for my sad, too-young-to-be-this-ouchy knees and was simply hobbling about making do, I advised a young co-worker, using up absolutely all of the old-people-speak at my disposal:

“You don’t think it’s important now, but whatever you do, always take care of your knees.”

“Always take care of my needs?”

“No, KNEES. This is not that kind of advice. Knees. Like feet, but higher up.”

Thank God we resolved that. I thought social services might come.

So I finally visited my doctor, who is a very nice person, and she looked at my knees and said, “Do you know your knees are swollen?” And I said, “I thought maybe they were just fat.” She laughed and had the lab take most of my blood.

It’s been a week, and I still don’t know what it is my blood has told them (or not).

They took my blood and now they’re not calling. It’s like I’ve been on a bad date with a vampire.

All the parts of this image have been stolen and shamelessly cobbled together by me. Because information wants to be free. Or at least cheap. And is wondering if you'd pick up this round.


Filed under Not about books at all really

What’s with the toaster?

Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you just don’t quite know what to do with something? Your carefully prepared, unconscious system of cubbyhole filing is at a loss and you can only think, “heh?”

Recent examples of this phenomenon in my life include:

Phlebotomy Fun Facts!

Today I had some blood taken at my doctor’s office. When they sent me down to their basement lab (I’m not kidding. They have a lab. It’s in the basement), I took a seat in the little chair-with-a-padded-armrest that they make you sit in to draw your blood, and saw a meticulously detailed bulletin board on the wall opposite. Cheery, and featuring yellow construction paper in great profusion, it was titled, Phlebotomy Fun Facts!

Was it intended to distract pediatric patients with happy trivia about blood? I don’t think so, mainly because I’m not sure the under 12 crowd is familiar with the term phlebotomy. There were photos of the phlebotomists, and of a fleet of Mobile Phlebotomy Cars, which either visit the homebound to take their blood, or perhaps convey blood taken in the basement to a larger lab for more sophisticated tests. I couldn’t tell. The print was too small. I did observe a great deal of red magic marker and yellow highlighter and a list of Qualities Needed in a Phlebotomist, outlined in scalloped construction paper. Perhaps this is a recruiting tool, I thought, expecting it to list various qualifications needed for professional bloodletting. But no, it simply informed me that my phlebotomist (presumably) has Good Eyesight, Steady Hands, and Cares About People. If it cheers the phlebotomists up, bully for them. It probably gets demoralizing poking holes in sick, sad, worried people for a great deal of the work day. So: Forward the Bulletin Board!

But I still think darts would be more effective.

Because it could be worse: It could be cake. I stole this image from Really.


Other things that make me go, “heh?”

What’s with the toaster?

Sometimes the zany is just deeply fun, so I leave you with this, from Hyperbole and a Half:

Cat Safety Propaganda

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Filed under Not about books at all really

The bookseller is feeling prickly


Spot the dfference…    










Proudly Serving Heathens Since 2001

I’m always put off when (like today) a customer asks with a sneer, “You don’t have a Christian section, do you?” You’d be surprised how often people use the same tone for this question that they would use to say, “You don’t wear underwear, do you?”

I point out that we have a religion and philosophy section that’s chock full o’ Thomas Merton, Ann Lamott & C.S. Lewis, as well as plenty of bibles (NRSV, NKJV, NIV, TNIV and PDQ – that one’s abridged). Sometimes people ask specifically for “Christian Fiction,” and I feel the urge to let them know that our novels are heathens, every one. Since we got rid of the ice dam on the roof last winter the books remain happily unbaptised.  

While I find it ridiculous to segregate paperbacks based on the religion of their author or that of their protagonist, I do wonder what makes patrons take one look at me and become sure that the store where I work does not sport such a section. I mean, I’m pushing 40 and wear a bun. On an especially bad fashion day I could pass for Amish. What’s tipping them off?  Is it the A is for Agnosticism t-shirt I wear to Story Time? 

Sealed for Your Protection 

There’s lots of good Christian fiction out there. Faith is a big part of people’s lives; it ought to be reflected in our literature. By the same token, there’s an abundance of good Jewish and Islamic and Hindu and Shinto and Buddhist fiction out there. What I object to is the use of the word Christian to mean something else. In the case of “Christian Fiction,” I think people are using it to mean “safe.” And that is so very wrong. 

Pursuing any religion seriously is the most dangerous thing we can do. Deeply committing yourself to a spiritual path will cause you to examine and re-examine the values you were brought up with and deny you a comfortable life. Ha ha! No more complacency for you. You’ll wind up hanging out with the sorts of people who most need your help, and they are not safe at all. 

When I read a book where the main character is searching for nothing more than a big, handsome man and asks God to “guide” her on every other page, I want to slap someone. Any story in which attaining romantic love is the primary occupation of the main character is just wish-fulfillment. It’s an escape, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but to call it “Christian” because the girl meets the guy at bible study is like calling me Spanish because I’m wearing Manolo Blahniks. And people who turn to this sort of writing because they find it somehow more appropriate (i.e.: guaranteed not to have steamy, unmarried sex in it) should be told that as reassuring and cozy as these books may be, the only thing that separates them from a Penthouse Bedtime Story is that they are bland. And honey, bland did not lead the Israelites out of Egypt or teach peace to anybody. Bland is for sissies.  


Filed under about books