Archive for June, 2008

Heraclitus lives again

June 30, 2008

After an early breakfast with a rising young librarian, I spent yesterday morning helping to hold down an information booth on the exhibits floor here at ALA. Getting behind that high desk and greeting the folks with questions was an immediate–nay, almost atavistic–return to reference librarianhood of the 1980’s: you wait, they approach.

And the info seekers’ behaviors mimicked the patron spectrum: the chatty with no real info need, the whiners who simply wanted a face at which to vent, the ruly and thoroughly and profoundly lost whom an info point person could only begin to guide.

The position at the booth also placed me in range of lots of passersby with whom I have worked in California, some who went into close-to-shock to read my current name/place badge. All in all, the hours passed rapidly, like performing an old exercise that stretches without taxing a forgotten muscle.

During the remainder of the morning and middle day, I fit in a brief but energetic discussion with Marc Aronson, on the topic of nonfiction and point of view; lunched and laughed with the inimitable and ironic Sharon Grover; and finally got to tour some book booths on behalf of my SLJ work. The it was time to put on my Halloween-ish costume of cocktail dress and honest-to-god necklace (first time I’ve worn that kind of jewelry since Hector was a pup) and go to the VOYA reception where my “look”, as well as my badge-blaring geographic move alternately shocked and amused some of my fellow party-goers. [Note to Carole: I will go backwards and post a picture of this here when I get back home].

The evening brought fine speeches at the Caldecott-Newbery Banquet, but, better, fun and conversation at our table. Both Brian Selznick and Laura Amy Schlitz are witty and highly polished speakers who spent less than one per cent of their presentations on personal emotion, while gathering us all in to share the emotions of joy and humor.



Conference with telecommunications

June 29, 2008

I have become spoiled by my usual access to communications equipment that puts me in touch with people there as well as allowing me to be present here.  My BlackBerry has crashed and burned. I must either find the person with whom I want to speak (here) or return to my computer to summon up the person I would usually locate on the small screen or the cell. Damn.

In spite of that hobbling, I managed to see and chat with a swathe of folk yesterday, satisfying my craving for daily wit and ideas. On top of that, Orson Scott Card proved to be an engaging and engaged speaker at the Margaret Edwards; he did not note either the controversy or present his views on homosexuality and I didn’t see any protests in or near the luncheon room, which surprised me.

The subject matter on which he spoke was reading, and, in specific, his own relationship with books as a child. In spite of believing as “a kid [that] books were more important than food,” he pursued reading topics that worked against his aesthetic grain as well as with it:  on the agaisnt side were books about baseball and cars, while on the with side were nancy Drew and Mark Twain.  He spoke of remembering the disliked books in greater detail than those he consumed with liking.  He also declared his attraction to Bess in the ND books while finding Ned Nickerson “really boring.”

He travelled on to speak of good writing as opposed to refined writing, and spoke out against “the metaphors and similes that sit like beauty queens in convertibles waving to the crowds.”

One note I found of particular interest is his declaration of devotion to Diane Setterfield’s The 13th Tale, the reading of which he clearly accomplished with his ears rather than his eyes. That, indeed, spoke volumes for audiobooks without ever mentioning the format directly.

Advocacy and the Odyssey

June 28, 2008

Although the gathering for the Advocacy Institute was relatively tiny, the pace was brisk and the energy palpable. The phrase “library ecosystem” got said too many times, but its resonance remained a truism: the Berkeley experience certainly shows that school libraries can grow when shaded by the canopy of public and academic librarians who won’t take up school slack but will foster the growth of school library roots.

The “Spokane Moms” proved to be not only well spoken and gung-ho, but also brilliant analysts and political ches players.

There were old library buds of mine aplenty at the preconference, including the inimitable Barbara Jeffus, librarian at the California Dept of Ed, and, of course, Ellie G-E, from BHS. Granted that this is the American Library Association,  I was struck by I heard the word “American” differently all day, with all points of reference to assumedly powerful ways of advocating having their basis within the US. Are there no library advocacy models in other realms?  I know that American libraries–at least public libraries–are indeed stronger here, or more broadly strong and inclusive–than in most places–but perhaps we need to consider other odels of advocacy as well–how to get things done beyond referencing how-libraries-can-get-things-done?

The evening was an elegant celebration of the Odyssey Award. As Booklist Forum Friday evenings have ever been, the speeches flowed with humor, passion for the immediate subject matter, and waves of audience delight. Bruce Coville set the oratory mark high:  “It all starts with sound.  In the womb, before sight, before we smell…the first thing we experience is sound…primarily the human voice.” He went on to honor story, voice, empathy, fine writing, and the future of creating and transporting story from teller to listener.

Mary Burkey distributed the Honor and Odyssey Awards to tremendous applause from well over 400 people packed into the ballroom–audiobook reception and status has come a long way since even my own first stint on the Media Selection and Usage Committee, back in the last century.  There are those who still are silly enough to have listening be cheating, but they kept their traps shuts last night.

Arnie Cardillo offered an indepth tour of the making of Jazz–including emails exchanged with Walter Dean Myers and the layering of recordings made by narrators and musicians. I hope the speeches from the evening are published in full by one ALA organ or another, for the amount we learned about process and detail deserves considerably wider circulation: the use of alternate voices to show when a word or phrase had been rendered in color on the print page, the music composed specifically to carry the original poetry created by the author….

In the post-event bar meet, Cheryl Herman delighted us with her ironic rendition of her meeting with Jim Dale, toward the end of producing his video presentation at the Forum. Meanwhile, the Best. Committee. Ever. perked back up after a round of drinks.  Our missing member, kept away by a very recently broken wrist, was there in our toasts, and we all promised to send her parts of the evening.  Salud, Merri!

Oh ye of little faith

June 27, 2008

When my suitcase went astray between Halifax and Oakland, I had faith that it would reappear–after all,t hat was a three-flight trip, with tight connects at one point and, at the ultiamte baggage claim, the attendant was able to see where the bag was and predict its arrival flight.

With Southwest, the fact that the flight was a 70-minute one with no other stopping points, the bags apparently not scanned, and so forth, I felt dubious about ever seeing it again.  And even more dubious after I read the page I was given at baggage claim, which told me that there was no likelihood of help with as much as toiletries until after my claim was filed and processed, which claim I could not submit until five days of no bag….

The hotel was kind, providing me with a toothbrush and so forth.

And then I went forth to my first affiar of conference, which involved a group meeting at a rrestaurant chosen for its menu and its distance from Disneyland.  there were five of us cabbing together but when we presented ourselves at the cab stand, we were rapidly shuffled away to a back drive and loaded into the Chevy Suburban equivalent of a prom limo.  It was hard to select the strangest among its details:  the black brocade benches circling in a U around the passenger compartment? The poorly inset plasma tv on which a group not the Eagles lip synched “Hotel California“? The stained-glass faux Tiffany panels in the the partition between us and the driver? The fact that the driver had no idea where to find this particular restaurant?

One of our party suggested that we may in fact be kidnap victims.  Having ridden in a wide variety of SoCal cabs, I was relatively sure that we were the victims of the region’s inability to admit to landscape, rather than of criminal desire.

And thus, with my faith restored in the ability to get by systems erected by others, I was rewarded with the return of my bag at 11 pm last night…although I had to ask for it at the hotel desk, as I had failed the final return test:  the message that it was waiting for me had been texted to the room, but texts messages appear on the television, an appliance neither Vi nor I had thought to check for that bit of data.


June 26, 2008

I’ve had my last ramble around 94709—at 6:15 this morning, the hunter sent forth to scout up coffee for the household. Last evening, Carole and Sally treated us to quite a fete, during which all adults present ran amock with the Lagavulin, ensuring the 17-year-old an opportunity to be the designated driver.  (We also sampled a local single malt, from Alameda’s St George distillery—quite smooth, peatless, of course, beautiful color).

 Oakland is one of my favorite airports:  compact but fully loaded with services, rest rooms with stalls that don’t require the lone traveler to tangle with a door and hand luggage interface, Peets, and now nifty little bars with stools and outlets that are actually comfy for computer use.  Since last week, the Pyramid Brewery satellite has opened but, even without any ill effects (hurrah!) from last evening’s whisky gala, nine’s too early for me to consider beer.

 From the BART train to the airport, I could finally see the way the sun’s been addled by the nearby fires.  Somehow, I’d managed to miss the news that Bay Area air has taken a hit from the fires—most specifically tires—burning at its edges.  All four of the others clued me into this last evening, with a minimum of eye rolling.

A trip seemingly as smooth as the whisky and the departure ended on an unexpected good-bye note.  Once again, for the second time in as many weeks, my suitcase didn’t arrive.  And the accounting from Southwest is rather scary:  I’m told the airline doesn’t scan the bag checks it secures to luggage and they can only guess where my suitcase might be or when and if I will see it again.

I may be fated to “do” ALA in jeans…..

Pack ’em, move ’em out

June 25, 2008

While Bob continues to march with military precision through the packing regime, Fred and I alternately take orders and abandon the process to find less chaotic and angst-ridden (urban) pastures.  I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in the past 10 days eating eggplant parmigiana; Fred appears to have spent a chunk of change on t-shirts announcing the “East Bay.”  (My favorite is a baseball-style one depicting the loading cranes at the Port of Oakland).

While Bob packs–and catalogs–on.  He has now produced a 56-page binder detailing the materiality of our lives (minus the 5 or 6 dozen books I’ve acquired while living in Halifax, plus my winter clothes, which are also there). It is impressively, frighteningly complete while remaining pithy. I am relieved to see that individual t-shirts are not described, while a few books are categorized as “very old, including Schiller.”

In an echo of the autumn leave-taking, I had dinner with Heidi.  The extra bookend thrown into that was the bread baker where we dined–LoCoco’s on Shattuck–was an ELL student of hers years ago, whom I met when the lbirary hosted the annual ELL poetry reading.

That was then.  Now seems to be an artillery of boxes and packing tape.

Summer idyll

June 24, 2008

In spite of all the strange and disparate tasks that are part of this trip, I am taking–perhaps an unconscionable amount of–vacation time:  visiting with friends, sight-seeing in low key, reading for pleasure.

Yesterday I had lunch with Carole and then we took a grand walk around central South Berkeley, on the prowl for interesting houses, trees, exterior decoration. We saw miniature Chinese lions guarding a 30’s era bungalow, cork trees manicured into perfect crowns by a synagogue while their sisters had gone wild and dense up the block, a strangely windowless rambling structure that has the owner locked in conflict with City Hall over code violations, corn and squash and lettuces in a front lawn. There seems to have been a lavender wood paint sale earlier this season as a range of houses had doors or brackets painted purple, whether or not the rest of paint on the house argued with the hue.

Today I visited the afternoon away with an old friend who has always been animal-friendly and whose house currently contains a small fleet of dogs in various sizes, most of whom seem to want for nothing more than a belly rub and lapsit the the visitor. As we chatted, it occurred to me that Connie brought my family both the grade school and the camp that have become parts of our son’s character as surely as growing up in Berkeley has. I’m glad I had the chance to thank her!

Readers, writers, bibliophiles join in taps

June 23, 2008

Rory’s memorial Saturday night brought together a crowd willing to bleed fond but clear-eyed reminiscences.  Although the heat wave was breaking, Comic Relief had stored a week’s worth of superheated air and so we all–rather appropriately somehow–sweated and wilted, even while the humor and emotional warmth flowed in a comfortable and uplifting draft.

Although Todd had worked hard to get the sound system working well storewide, the anarchist underpiinings of the whole enterprise had the speakers going mikeless and thus, for the most part, truly commanding attention in order to be heard.  Those who spoke spoke well, and spoke as Rory’s fellow gamers, past classmates, current employees, lifelong friends, family, customers, admirerers (who also saw his difficult side), house guests, interlocutors. One wonderfully brave and sassy woman shared with us all her ongoing disregard for the comics medium; a aprent who had expected his child to grow up reading under Rory’s tutelage wept as he wound up his speech; Rory’s sister donned his hat and, for  jsut a moment, let us all remember a young Rory, reading under the covers.

Several speakers mentioned Rory’s association with libraries and librarians, but none of the librarians I saw in the crowd went forth to speak.  EO and I caucused briefly about how someone from BPL should have been on hand to read the Board’s resolution in Rory’s honor.  As it ever were….

The truest speaker of all was the one who noted how Rory would be both thrilled and embarrassed by the turnout and the words.  For a man who lived and breathed for the narrative, it was a fine round of taps.

This morning’s paper brings more news of passing.  Cody’s, too, has died–for the fourth and apparently last time.


June 23, 2008

This must be what Sundays have been for generations of people who stay: old friends at the beginning and through at the end.  The heat wave loosened its hold, although the day was bright and hardly cool.  Heidi and Alan Miller met me at Leila’s Cafe on San Pablo, where the conversation turned to remembering the Berkeley High schoolyear of 1994, the year of Frontline’s “School Colors” and the last truly over-the-top administrative debacles.

We’ve all turned a bit softer, grayer, with senses of humor that are quicker to surface.  Each of us seemed to remember a different facet that made the collective memory more precise and full.  It’s astonishing, to me, that we have known each other so long.  I never worked at BHS, of course, but I’ve always–always for the past 18 years–been in the margin and its been my own marginalia. 

In the evening, the pendulum swung young and I had time with some of my favorite Berkeley grads.  Janice has become a nutritionist, but in my weltanshang she is the maker of extraordinary and delicate origami cranes that decorate my Halifax office and the only person who has ever managed to cajole me into cleaning the piles on my desk. Her younger sister has recently become a sterling silver appraiser, not BHS’s usual progeny.

Which is exactly what makes Berkeley delightful instead of simply frustrating.  Predictability isn’t ever assured and surprises can be like little handblown glass ball fantasias– solid and real–or wars survived–the truth behind the adage “what doesn’t kill makes stronger.”

Another transformative experience in Berkeley

June 21, 2008

For years I worked in a Berkeley building that frequently lost electrical power, often as a result of an exploding transformer behind the building.  These weren’t little brown outs or power failures that lasted a few minutes, but lengthy bouts of being plunged into darkness (in the staircases and interior realms of the “old” library) and airlessness (in the sealed, HVAC-dependent “new” building).  I’ve lived in a wide variety of climes and economies, but Berkeley holds my personal record for most time spent unelectrified.

This morning, given the heat (the Bay Area also has had temps in the high 90’s the past several days), we were up by 6.  Bob and I were sitting in the back yard, gathering whatever breeze trickled our way, doing a poor job of sorting through the newspaper.  An enormous crash split the quiet: truck? earthquake?  No, transformer.  Berkeley’s good-bye sally.

I went out exploring to see how far afield the blackout (well, it’s bright, solstice, of course, so that word is unsuitable) stretches and, for once, it reaches north, rather than south and toward the library.  I was careful to step around the sidewalk covers above other transformers, remembering how poor Yvette P had her eyebrows singed on the way to work a couple years ago when the usual transformer-to-blame blew just as she was about to step across it.

it being Saturday, PG&E took a couple hours to put in an appearance, giving me enough time to work up a good case of guilty feelings over how electrically dependent I am.  But now the crispy transformer’s apparently been replaced; it appears only a couple drivers forgot that no traffic light indicates a four-way stop (the second bang–not as big–that we heard was that collision over at Cedar and MLK); and everyone–Bob, David Goines, even me–has returned to the work that requires juice.