Monday, March 30, 2009

Rant or Rave: The Amazon Kindle 2

E-books have been the "new thing" for many years now-- much in the way of Dippin' Dots, the self-proclaimed "ice cream of the future". Dippin' Dots have bee the "ice cream of the future" for over two decades, yet they have steadfastly not been able to replace ice cream, the ice cream of the past, as the frozen treat of choice anywhere but at overpriced amusement parks and sporting events. Similarly, as long ago as the 1980s, society was going to become paperless. No more bulging folders and overstuffed filing cabinets. And books were doomed.

Fast-forward two decades and finally traditional paper publishing seems legitimately threatened by digital formats and electronic access. Newspapers are dying across the country and around the world as online access to news, information and opinion continues to replace the standard newspaper because it is easier, faster and cheaper. On the book and magazine front, reference materials are rapidly dwindling (I would not want to be the purveyor of encyclopedias these days, though the electronic versions of Brittanica, World Book and other popular paper encyclopedias will likely keep them viable for a while), and much of the words technical and scientific output is now published first, sometimes exclusively, in digital format.

But what of the novel? This has been the one significant hold out-- reading for pleasure, reading on the go-- how to replicate the ease, familiarity and inexpensiveness of a paperback? While I may be quite willing and able to read about trends in librarianship, or articles about my favorite sports teams online, I don't want to read John Steinbeck, Christopher Moore or Stephen King on my computer screen. For a number of reasons, including the fact that I spend enough time in front of my computer already, the fact that I need a power supply (though the new batteries in laptops are reducing this concern some) and the fact that computers, even laptops, aren't easily carried about and opened and browsed in the manner of a book.

Enter the Kindle, or other similar products, like Sony's Reader. Though pricey up front, the cost of titles to add to these products is low (many of the titles you can download onto your Reader are free via Google Books or other sources), and once purchased a title can be read on several Kindles simultaneously. Long-term then, the pricing becomes competitive with traditional formats, especially since newspaper and magazine subscriptions on the products are also cost-effective compared to print pricing.

But are they comparable on a "qualitative" basis? Would you like to "curl up with a good Kindle"? In a word, yes. The size is comparable, the weight is comparable, the text is comparable and, in many ways, the Kindle is superior. Reading John Steinbeck and wondering what in the world a "welkin" is, or why you would ever want to make it ring? Simply bring up the pre-installed dictionary and discover that a welkin is, "the sky". Or, alternatively, "heaven" and that to make the welkin ring is to make a "very loud sound." Then back you go to your book (the Kindle pops you right back to where you left off-- no need for bookmarks!).

Shazam. Reading on the couch or in bed is as good, nay better, than with a book because the Kindle is easily held with one hand. Unlike most books, where either the size or the tightness of the binding make it difficult to hold one-handed for any length of time. Additionally, the Kindle does have a text to speech function (albeit, not a great one), the ability to increase or decrease the font-size (no need for Large Print editions) and the ability to make notes or highlight sections of the book without actually defacing the text itself. You can add bookmarks, or search within a book for a particular word or phrase. And the wireless access allows you to use your Kindle to connect to google and wikipedia, though navigating those sites through the Kindle interface is clunky (and that's being overly kind-- it is very awkward).

The big downer-- the Kindle is proprietary. Books purchased via Amazon for your Kindle are not transferable to your PC or your Sony Reader. Digital books via Google can not be added to your Kindle (unlike the Sony Reader, which is more flexible, though not exactly open source). So, though cheap, you must purchase your book content for your Kindle from Amazon-- there's always a catch, eh?

Still, despite the DRM (Digital Rights Management) complaints, and the large initial cost for a Kindle, I found myself becoming a Kindle fan. So, a pretty solid Rave for the Kindle. I hope that Amazon realizes that their proprietary approach is a longterm loser (or, perhaps, I hope that their proprietary approach is a longterm loser), but I think the library will have to explore some e-reader options.

Stay Tuned!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Monster Mania

A good time was had by all little monsters at Preschool Storytime:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Week Two, Round Three

With a berth in the Elite Eight and a Week Five matchup on the line, the four remaining Week Two authors were psyched and ready to go. The pre-game favorites were Poe and Frost, but no one would be suprised if Deaver managed to pull off another upset and Carl Sandburg was no slouch. Really, any of the four could advance, and two great games were expected-- and two great games occurred!

#5 Edgar Allan Poe vs. #7 Jeffrey Deaver
Two Cinderella stories in the finals of the Horror/Thriller division faced off last night, both coming off of surprisingly easy victories over higher seeds in the previous round. Nothing came easy in this game, however, as the defense was intense and the points were at a premium. Every shot was contested, and the officials let both men play tough, in-your-face, man-to-man defense. At halftime, the score was an ugly 3-2 in favor of Poe and both teams seemed a little stunned by the physicality of the game. In the second half, Deaver was able to stretch the floor a little, use his shot blocking ability to set up a some break away opportunities, and he surged to a 5-4 lead. Poe answered back with a defensive stop of his own and short, floating jumper in the lane to tie it up, but with time running down, Deaver was able to juke Poe off his feet, then slide to the side for an uncontested mid-range shot. Swish, nothing but net! The Cinderella story continued as the #7 seeded Deaver moved into the Elite Eight. Afterwards, a visibly exhausted Poe conceded that his condition-- dead-- may have contributed to his costly defensive lapse. "Yeah, I wore down in the second half. I mean, hats off to Jeff for keeping the pressure on and I don't mean to take away anything from him, but the century and a half... well, it caught up to me finally."

#1 Robert Frost vs. #2 Carl Sandburg
Unlike the Thriller/Horror bracket, the Poetry bracket had played out true to the seeding, with the top two meeting in the finals. Both Frost and Sandburg had needed to work to get there, however, eeking out 6-5 victories, and everyone was expecting another nip and tuck game as the two early 20th century titans of verse faced off. No one left disappointed. The midwestern Sandburg got the earlier jump, 2-0, but the New Englander Frost responded quickly, eveing it up at 2-2, then pulling ahead 3 to 2 shortly before halftime. Just before the buzzer, Sandburg was able to launch a shot tha caught the backboard and then rattled the rim before finally dropping for a 3-3 halftime tie. It was more of the same in the second half, with neither man able to gain more than a one point edge, leading to a tense 5 all score with time running down. Frost had an open look at the hoop with the shot clock running down, but he was just a little off target and Sandburg snatched the rebound. He raced down court with the game clock approaching double zeroes, then let loose just before the horn. Just as with the first half ending, this shot hit glass, then rim and this time glass again, before rolling nearly completely around the rim and dropping through. The result left Sandburg racing around the court, shouting and pulling at his jersey, while Frost simply kneeled at mid-court, unable to believe that two last-second heaves had cost him his shot at the title.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Week Two, Round Two

Things were tight in the Poetry bracket second round matchups, two squeakers that weren't decided until the very end, but the games were over much earlier in the Thriller/Horror bracket. Of course, the results might be a bit surprising:

#3 Anne Rice vs. #7 Jeffrey Deaver
Jeffrey Deaver was a late addition to the tournament-- the selection committee nearly overlooked him, focusing instead on older, deader authors. But his contributions were recognized and he was slotted in at #7. In round 1, Deaver used his post moves and strong defensive presence to edge #2 seed Dean Koontz. In round 2, he took on #3 seed Anne Rice, whose vampire tales have inspired many subsequent re-examinations of the vampire legend (including the very popular Stephanie Meyers Twilight books). Rice made it to the second round by utilizing a patient, fundametally sound approach and edging Robert Bloch in a thriller, 6-5. This one was over almost before it began. Rice's pick moves and back door cuts were consistently foiled by Deaver's reach and excellent defensive positioning. Rice quickly found herself in foul trouble and Deaver was out to a 4-0 lead halfway through the first period. Deaver never let up on his defensive pressure, and when it was all over, the #7 seed and Cinderella of the tournament so far had recorded a convincing 9-2 victory.

#1 Stephen King vs. #5 Edgar Allan Poe
Most of the other horror and thriller authors in the field this year owe a substantial debt to Edgar Allan Poe, who established many of the well-worn paths of suspense, thrills and horror that we all like to walk down from time to time. But, his narrow victory over best selling author James Patterson in round 1 was a bit of an upset, given that Poe has been dead for over 150 years and he hasn't written anything new during that time period (slacker). His opponent in round two was the #1 seed in the bracket, Stephen King, the most recognizable name in horror and author of over fifty novels and collections of short stories. An easy victory seemed likely, but few would've picked Poe as the author (hah!) of that victory-- yet here it was, Poe jumping out to an early lead as he hit shots from all over the court and King never seeming to be in rhythm. When the dust settled, Poe had recorded an easy 8-3 victory, and had earned a spot in the Sweet Sixteen, where he'll play Deaver. After the game, King was asked about his poor performance: "Well, I'm disppointed, obviously, but lots of credit to Mr. Poe-- he played some great defense and never really let me get in a groove. I also probably shouldn't have started reading "The Tell-Tale Heart" last night-- that story really creeped me out, man. I didn't sleep so good."

#1 Robert Frost vs. #4 Emily Dickinson
Robert Frost cruised to victory over Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Round One, 8-3, and Emily Dickinson dispatched Walt Whitman by an even more decisive margin, 9-2. But no one expected that sort of lopsided result when the two victors faced off earlier this week, and the game was as good as anticipated. It was a see-saw battle throughout, with Dickinson out to an early, though slim, 3-2 lead before Frost really clamped down defensively, allowing him to go on a 3-0 run and a 5-3 edge miway through the second half. Dickinson rallied, burying two long range shots to tie the game at 5-5 in the waning minutes, but it was Frost's pinpoint passing that finally got him past the determined Dickinson as he lobbed a perfectly placed alley-oop to the front of the rim which was slammed home for the winning point just before the buzzer. The two poets hugged after the game, both obviously impressed with the other. "I'm happy to win, of course," said Frost in his post-game conference, "but I wish it hadn't been at Emily's expense. We're both New Englanders and I have nothing but respect for her poetry and for the tremendous effort she put forth tonight." Dickinson was similarly gracious, "Bob deserved it-- his work is iconic and he made the play down the stretch. I'm happy with my performance, though I wish the end result had been a W."

#2 Carl Sandburg vs. #3 Oscar Wilde
As with the earlier poetic match up, both Sandburg and Wilde had cruised through their first round games, Sandburg defeating John Keats, 9-2, and Wilde eliminating T.S. Eliot, 8 to 3. Also as with the first game, this one was a barn burner, with several lead changes and ties. The two men have similar styles-- solid defense and a silky smooth release on their jump shot-- and for a while it seemed the game would head into overtime as both players buried shot after shot enroute to a 5-5 tie late in the game. But there would be some controversy in this one, as the officials called a blocking foul on Wilde with time running down. The foul sent Sandburg to the line where he calmly knocked down the free throw, the winning point as it turned out when Wilde's last second shot hit the back of the rim and back out onto the court. Afterwards, Wilde was irate: "I can't believe they called that," the lanky Irishman railed. "We'd been bumping all night long, no fouls called, and then at the end of the game they call a ticky-tack foul to decide it? That's a crock." Sandburg was unavailable for comment, claiming that he needed to get ready for his forthcoming matchup with Robert Frost.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Cool Place to Waste Some Time has some of the coolest, most interesting, flat out fascinating webcasts I've ever seen. Get a bunch of smart, talented people together and see what happens. What a great concept! This guy's 37 minute juggling/learning/space/art/motion/rhythm segment is mind-blowing.

Actually, most of the stuff on the ted site probably can't be considered a waste of time-- it's too informative and useful! But it is a great way to spend some time.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Brackets and the Standings

Here are the overall brackets so far:And here are the standings through Week One:
K. Grisham: 13
G. Weber: 12
E. Weber: 8
D. Vander Pluym: 8
T. Guillama: 6
P. Willinger: 6
T. Philipp: 5
N. Weber: 5
S. Carlson: 3
R. Hanauer: 2

Thanks to everyone for playing! I hope to see all of you in for the rest of the tournament

Week Two, Round 1: Thrillers/Horror

The masters of suspense and the macabre tipped off over the weekend, with some fierce battles in nearly all of the games (though no actual deaths, either natural or supernatural, were reported). Here is a summary of the first round games:

#2 Dean Koontz vs. #7 Jeffrey Deaver
A frequent resident at the top of the best-seller lists, Dean Koontz' books have sold millions of copies and he has a huge fan base. Less well known is his play-making ability with a basketball. His opponent has been less prolific, but Jeffrey Deaver has also visited the best-seller list and his book The Bone Collector was made into a successful feature film. He is also a strong presence in the lane, renowned for his tremendous shot blocking ability and his "up and under" post moves, ala Kevin McHale. The two traded baskets early, and the game was up for grabs from the get go, with neither man able to gain more than a single point lead on the other. Back and forth they went, Deaver swatting away what looked like gimme layups for Koontz and Koontz smoothly stealing the ball from Deaver just when it seemed that Deaver was ready to slam the rock home. It came down to the final minute, all tied 5-5 when Koontz grabbed a loose ball and drove toward the hoop. Somehow, Deaver kept pace with the smaller, faster Koontz and smacked the ball away at the last minute, drawing boos from the Koontz fanbase, who wanted a foul on the play. But the officials let the play go and Deaver took the ensuing possession and swished a short fade away jumper just before the buzzer for an upset special, 6-5.

#3 Anne Rice vs. #6 Robert Bloch
Though Rice is more contemporary, her writing is more "old-school" than Bloch's, whose writing is known for its terseness and psychological horror (Psycho being the epitome of this style) and whose basketball game features some mad ball handling skills and powerful jams. Rice, author of the Vampire chronicles, is known for her florid prose and rich settings and a more traditional basketball expertise, grounded in her ability to run an excellent pick n' roll and many backdoor cuts. As with the first game in this bracket, the match up was a tight game throughout, back and forth with Rice gaining the early edge, 4-1, only to see Bloch come racing back to pull even at 4-4. After trading baskets, Bloch had an open jumper, but it caught the back of the iron and Rice out raced him to the rebound, executed a beautiful behind the back dribble to gain some space, then drove the length of the court for a tear drop layin just ahead of the buzzer and a 6-5 victory.

#4 James Patterson vs. #5 Edgar Allan Poe
A contrast in styles, the 4 v. 5 match up was just as tight as the previous two games. James Patterson is the new guy on the block, a multi-million selling author of a string of psychological thrillers and action adventures. Poe is one of the fathers of the macabre and the horror genre, and he even has an NFL football team named after one of his characters. Both are also known for their fade away jumpshots and willingness to dish the rock to their teammates. A classic, strength on strength match up, that seesawed back and forth all game. Poe had a slim early lead, 3-1, but Patterson rallied to tie it at 3-3, then again at 4-4 and 5-5. But Patterson could never quite climb that hill-- he tied the game, but could not take the lead and in the end Poe was able to edge him out 6-5, setting up a second round match up with Stephen King.

#1 Stephen King vs. #8 Harlan Ellison
It would be my opinion that Stephen King is the better storyteller than Harlan Ellison, but that Ellison is the better writer. On this day, for this game, the storyteller won and won fairly easily. King jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead and Ellison was never able to threaten after that, scoring only twice in a 9-2 thrashing. The victory moved King into a second round game against Poe in a most intriguing battle.

Week Two, Round 1: Poets

With the Mystery and Fantasy/Science Fiction brackets in the books (yes, still using that pun-- no comments yet. Come on people, a little love here!), it is time to turn to Week Two, featuring a plethora of poets and a ton of thrillers. Here's a summary of the first round poetry pairings:

#1 Robert Frost vs. #8 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
One of the 20th century's most acclaimed writers, Robert Frost will forever be remember for his poem, The Road Not Taken with its classic opening "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood", but his performance in the first round of the Authors Show Down may register a close second in memorability. From the get go Frost's crisp passing and stifling defense had Longfellow on his heels and in a quick 5-1 hole. Longfellow, whose own iconic work Paul Revere's Ride contains the classic lines "Listen my children and you shall here of the midnight ride of Paul Revere," rallied briefly, closing to 5-3 on a pair of long range jumpers, but it was all Frost down the stretch. In the end, the #1 seed in the poetry bracket coasted to an 8-3 victory.

#4 Emily Dickinson vs. #5 Walt Whitman
With one of the best beards ever, Walt Whitman is widely regarded as the father of free-verse poetry, as well as a fine rebounder and good post player. His opponent, by contrast, is a perimeter player, known for her short lines of verse and a quick release on her jump shot. Usually in a match up of an inside player vs. an outside shooter, the odds favor the taller, inside presence, but in the first round Emily Dickinson was so good from outside that Whitman's rebounding prowess was of little use-- there were few missed shots to speak of. Dickinson scored early and often, jumping out to a 4-0 lead and coasting to an easy 9-2 decision, setting up a second round match up with Robert Frost-- an intriguing pairing given that both are New England natives who frequently wrote of rural life and nature in that region.

#3 Oscar Wilde vs. #6 T.S. Eliot
Slightly miscast in the poetry bracket (Wilde is best known for plays), Wilde was nonetheless a prominent poet, wicked satirist and also a superb all around basketball player. His opponent, T.S. Eliot, is best known for his book of verse Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which served as the inspiration for the wildly popular musical Cats, and for his cross-over dribble, which frequently leaves defenders standing flat-footed while Eliot drives past them for an easy dunk. In the first-round it was all Wilde, the Irishman jumping out to a quick 5-0 lead and then maintaining that margin for a convincing 8-3 victory and a second round match up with Carl Sandburg.

#2 Carl Sandburg vs. #7 John Keats
Had this competition been held in the early 19th century, Keats would have won easily-- and not just because Sandburg wasn't born until 1878. In his day, Keats was renowned for both his poetry and his rim-rocking slam dunks. Indeed, Keats was an influence on many of the other poets in this bracket as well as on dunk masters Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. But this competition wasn't held in the early 19th century, but instead in the early 21st century, and in our competition, Sandburg was able to limit Keats with some fine defense and some excellent long range marksmanship, enroute to an easy 9-2 victory.

Week 1 Results

The final tallies are in and we have our first survivors to the Elite Eight (details below). We also have our first weekly winner-- congratulations to Karen Grisham. She was the only one of our 10 entrants that correctly picked one of the Elite Eight survivors, picking H.G. Wells over Ray Bradbury in the Fantasy & Science Fiction bracket. Indeed, Karen missed only 1 "game" in the F&SF bracket, incorrectly choosing Kurt Vonnegut over Terry Pratchett, but nailing every other game, for 11 out of 12 possible points. This was enough to balance out her showing in the Mystery Division, where she picked only two first round games correctly, for a grand total of 13 out of 24.

Thirteen was enough to edge out Gail Weber, who registerd 12 points and who correctly picked three of the four Sweet Sixteen "players". She missed both finalists, however, incorrectly picking Dorothy Sayers and Ray Bradbury to win their respective brackets. In third place was David Vander Pluym and Eric Weber, with 8 points apiece.

Mystery Bracket Final
It was a battle of the old against the new, the classic detective story against the newer, less refined who dunnit. The grand dame, Agatha Christie, #1 overall seed, one of the best selling authors of all-time (most likely second only to the Bible), and a brilliant long-range jump shooter and strong defender. Against Janet Evanovich, a comparitive newcomer, but still the #2 overall seed and an author whose books consistently storm the bestseller lists. Also possessor of a wicked hook shot and some strong post moves.

It promised to be a titanic struggle, and neither author disappointed. Christie opened strong, surging to a 4-1 lead on the strength of some fine long-range shooting, but then Evanovich seemed to find her legs, driving past Christie for several easy layups and surging to a 5-4 edge late in the game. But Dame Agatha showed why she is a champion, coming up with another long range dagger of a shot that swished through with nothing but net. 5-5 and it looked like we were heading to overtime. But there were still a few ticks left on the clock and Evanovich inbounded so quickly, she caught Christie by surprising, perhaps Agatha had assumed that Evanovich would call for a timeout. Regardless, Ms. Evanovich stormed down the court in a flurry, then launched a beautiful, high arcing shot just before the buzzer rang out, the ball catching rim, backboard, rim again before, finally, settling into the basket for the game winner, 6-5.

The win moved Evanovich into the Elite Eight where she will match up with the winner of the Fantasy & Science Fiction bracket in week five. Always classy, Christie shook Evanovich's hand and wished her well, challenging her to continue her fine play and to "win the whole thing, then, won't you?"

Fantasy and Science Fiction Bracket Final
The contrasts weren't quite as sharp in the the F&SF final, though the fact that H.G. Wells is dead and Ray Bradbury isn't had to be a concern for fans of Mr. Wells. No need to worry, as Wells jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, perhaps catching Mr. Bradbury by surprise with his quick, spinning drives down the lane and ability to stop on a dime, then elevate for a clean jumper. Or perhaps Ray came into the matchup with a false sense of his inevitability after the 10-0 thrashing he had administered to Isaac Asimov in the previous round.

Either way, a timeout gave Bradbury a chance to regroup and he settled into his typically strong defensive game, punctuated by several rim rocking dunks as he went on a five to one run that put him up 5-4 midway through the fourth quarter. With Bradbury's faithful rocking the house, Mr. Wells' supporters we're holding their breath, no doubt wondering if the granddaddy of 'em all had enough in the tank for one last hurrah. Showing tremendous vitality for someone who had been dead for over sixty years, Wells did indeed dig deep, launching a picture perfect jump hook over the outstretched fingers of Bradbury to tie the game. On the ensuing possession, Wells played tight, man to man defense, eventually picking Bradbury's pocket on what could have been the game winning drive for the author of Farenheit 451. Instead, it was the auther of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds that stormed down the court for a finger roll layin just seconds before time expired.

And so we have our first week 5 pairing, with H.G. Wells and Janet Evanovich playing for a shot at the final four. But that is still a few weeks off. First, we must see what happens in the other brackets. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Week 1, Round 2 Results

Round Two is over, in the books even, and four of our authors have made it to the Sweet Sixteen. The #1 and 2 seeds in the Mystery bracket have advanced, setting up a battle for the ages between the timeless Agatha Christie and newcomer Janet Evanovich.

Christie opened a big early lead on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, jumping out 4-0, only to see the sophisticated, yet surprisingly agile, Conan Doyle reel off five straight to take the lead. In the end, however, it was Christie's defense that pulled her through-- she shut down Doyle's post-up game and forced him to make the jump shot. He couldn't do it, and the final two points went to Agatha as she closed out the win, 6-5. Evanovich had an easier time of it, rolling to a 3-0 lead and then coasting to an 8-3 win.

In the Fantasy/SF Bracket, the matchup between H.G. Wells and Terry Pratchett was nip and tuck the whole way. Neither man could get more than a point up on his opponent as they traded baskets and defensive stops. It came down to the wire, Wells up 6-5 and Pratchett with a good look from 15 feet. The shot found all kinds of rim, even got part way down, but in a heartbreaker for the Englishman, it rolled out and #2 seed Wells moved on to the Sweet 16.

The other game... wowsa! I didn't see this coming. No way, Jose. Ray Bradbury took the opening tip, slammed it home and never looked back. Never even slowed down. He stopped Asimov cold, playing shut down defense while effortlessly dropping in shots from all over the court. The final score? #5 seeded Ray Bradbury 10, #1 seeded Isaac Asimov, 0. Zippo. Nada. A big old goose egg.

Can Bradbury repeat his dominance against Wells? Will Christie maintain her choke hold as the grand dame of mystery? Or will it be the #2 seeds playing through their brackets and facing off in the Week Five bracket?

Tune in tomorrow, to find out!

Ouch: Now This is a Brutal Review

The Library has been gradually adding Wii, PlayStation 3 and XBOX 360 games to our collection. I almost bought this game over the weekend:

After reading THIS review, I am quite glad I didn't. Yikes, that's a scathing critique. Here's the money quote from the reviewer's conclusion:

There's more, of course. Between levels, there are some impossibly dumb minigames that give you no chance to figure out what you're supposed to do before they're over. There are times when you're supposed to wave your wand, but the game can't distinguish between a wand wave and an attack, which forces you to sit there for five minutes until you do the mysterious magical motion that gets it right. Ultimately, what you need to know is this: Anubis II is one of the worst games ever created and fundamentally broken. If you play it, you can never get back the three hours you wasted on this unique brand of torture.

Okay, so how do you really feel?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March Madness: Bracket Updates

The NCAA madness kicks off today with the play-in game, featuring a titanic struggle between Morehead State and Alabama State. Did you know we had a state called Morehead? I don't recall seeing the quarter for that one. Actually, Morehead State is located in Kentucky. Alabama State is located in... Alabama. Bit of a let down there.

More importantly, the Library's March Madness is rolling along. Here are the brackets for this week:
Eight masters of suspense and horror and eight masters of verse, meter and alliteration. Who will make the Elite 8? Will it be Emily Dickinson against Stephen King? Make your selections (no reading necessary, remember, though you can't go wrong reading any or all of these authors) and enter for a chance to win the weekly prize-- a $10 gift card, courtesy of Espresso Love Coffee in Mukwonago.

And it the opening week games, we also have some intriguing matchups:

Will the favorites (Christie, Evanovich, Asimov and Wells prevail) or will we have our first big upset? Find out tomorrow when the next round results are posted, here and at the Library.

Monday, March 16, 2009

March Madness: SF/Fantasy Bracket

Truth in Advertising: I like all of these guys. It was difficult for me to vote one way or the other for some of the match ups. Fortunately, my vote was only 1 of those cast by the staff to decide who won and who hung their head in shame. But enough, on we go...

Round One of the Science Fiction/Fantasy Bracket is in the books (yes, I'm going to continue to use that pun-- at least until someone comments on it, then perhaps I will relent). The Library staff has voted and the decisions are final. For a summary of the Mystery Bracket games, go here.

Isaac Asimov vs. Robert Heinlein
This one was strength on strength as two of the early titans of science fiction battled away at each other. Asimov had hard science, name recognition and a brilliant cross-over dribble on his side, but Heinlein has some serious chops of his own to go with a super fast first step that often leaves him with uncontested layups. It was a dogfight from the beginning, with Heinlein jumping out to an early lead on a hot start, 3-1, before Asimov steadied himself and reeled off the next four. From there it was back and forth all game long, with the decision still hanging in the balance until the last minutes, when Asimov faked right before blowing past Heinlein on the left for a 6-5 lead. Heinlein's hopes were then dashed when Asimov picked his pocket and went the length of the court for the final nail in the coffin, 7-5.

Ray Bradbury vs. J.R.R. Tolkien
Another nip and tuck contest, this time featuring the mercurial, but always deliciously good, musings of the sixth-seeded Ray Bradbury against the grandfather of fantasy as a genre, third-seed J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien's books have been made into movies more often than Bradbury's, but if the game were decided by sheer volume, Bradbury would win in a walk. Fortunately, the game wasn't decided by either of those things, instead featuring Bradbury's powerful inside game against Tolkien's tough man-to-man defense and silky smooth jumpshot. The two gentlemen did not disappoint, with another back and forth struggle that wasn't decided until the end. Bradbury jumped out to an early lead, undaunted by stately grace of Mr. Tolkien, and the old (yes, dead) gentlemen was never quite able to climb the hill and take the lead. He got close on several occassions, the latest at 6-5, but the final shot was Bradbury's and he buried it, closing out a tight 7-5 victory and moving him on to face Asimov.

Terry Pratchett vs. Kurt Vonnegut
A 4 vs. 5 seed match up featuring two of the more experimental, and funny, authors in the Authors Showdown. Pratchett and Vonnegut are both known for their satirical tone and content, though Pratchett's is a bit more mad-cap than Vonnegut's. What seemed like a battle of evenly matched, similar stylists soon turned into a blowout, however, as Pratchett rained 3-pointers down on Vonnegut in a brilliant display of shooting finesse and accuracy. A blistering 4-0 start had Vonnegut on his heels, and despite his height advantage he was never able to recover, falling 10-2 to Pratchett.

Orson Scott Card vs. H.G. Wells
The #8 seed, Card, scored first against the heavily favored #1 seed, Wells, and for a brief period it seemed an upset for the ages could be in store. But no-- Wells took the opening salvo in stride, shook it off, and then scored the next ten points in a row before Card was able to record a final, face saving second point at the end of the game. Wells might be long dead, but he muscled his way past Card with surprising speed, grace and defense, showing why he is considered the father of science fiction and the #1 seed in the bracket.

I will post an updated bracket tomorrow, along with the current point totals of our week one contestants. If you're scoring at home, hopefully you had Christie, Conan Doyle, Grafton, Evanovich, Asimov, Bradbury, Pratchett and Wells winning in your brackets. If you did, you're looking good! If you missed on most of these, don't worry-- there's always next week! Indeed, you can stop in and fill out next week's bracket any time between now and 4 pm on Saturday, March 21. Or, make your picks at home and email your choices to me. It's not too late to join the Madness!

March Madness: Mystery Bracket

Round One of the Mystery Bracket is in the books (yes, I'm going to continue to use that pun-- at least until someone comments on it, then perhaps I will relent). The Library staff has voted and the decisions are final. The pre-bracket favorites, the grand old Dame, Agatha Christie and the hotshot newcomer, Janet Evanovich were expected to cruise to victory-- did that play to form? And what of the intriguing middle-seeds, hard-boiled and gritty writers Mickey Spillane and Elmore Leonard against the more traditional and gentile writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sue Grafton? Read on....

Agatha Christie vs. P.D. James
Agatha Christie was prolific, popular and genre-defining with sales of her 80+ books estimated at roughly four billion copies (yes, that's a b). Less-well known about Dame Christie is that she has a wicked stop and pop jump shot and runs a wicked pick-n-go. P.D. James is also very popular and also an inductee of the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame and she has been known to drive coast-to-coast on even the fastest point guards. The #1 overall seed in the Mystery Bracket, Christie seemed a lock for the second round, but Ms. James didn't go down without a fight. Early on it was nip and tuck, with James finding some holes in Christie's zone defense, but over time, Christie's well-rounded game and strong defense took control. The result was a 10-2 victory for Christie and a date in the 2nd round.

Mickey Spillane vs. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes is still the most recognizable name in the annals of mystery writing. But Holmes' creator, Sir Arthur, was still only a slight favorite over Mr. Spillane, due mostly to the fact that Conan Doyle has been dead for nearly 80 years. Mr. Spillane did not invent the sub-genre of hard-boiled P.I. mysteries, but he did bring it into the mainstream, with his Mike Hammer books selling millions of copies worldwide. Despite being really, really dead, the third seeded Conan Doyle wasted no time in jumping out to a big lead on the also dead, but only recently, Spillane. Early on it was 5-0, and despite a few long balls from the corner and a nice post-up move, Spillane was never able to close the gap, finally succumbing, 9-3.

Sue Grafton vs. Elmore Leonard
The much anticipated #4 v. #5 match up of Sue Grafton and Elmore Leonard more than lived up to its billing. It was a study in contrasts, the more traditional Grafton vs. the quirky, sometimes profane Leonard. Grafton is a long-range sharpshooter, who loves to launch 3-pointers and isn't afraid to take one from anywhere on the court. Leonard is a rebounding machine, with strong shot blocking skills and some rim-rocking jams. The majority of Grafton's books feature P.I. Kinsey Millhone, while Leonard's works have a variety of main protagonists. In the end, the Unstoppable Force and the Immovable Object played to a dead tie, 6-6. And in the last seconds of overtime, Grafton arched a long, rainbow jumpshot just over the outstretched fingertips of Leonard. It caught nothing but net as the final buzzer blared, sending Grafton on to the second round and Leonard home, with his head full of thoughts of what might have been.

Dorothy Sayers vs. Janet Evanovich
The final pairing in the Mystery Bracket featured another well-established female mystery writer, Dorothy Sayers, against a comparative, but very popular newcomer in Janet Evanovich. Indeed, so popular is Evanovich at the Mukwonago Community Library that she was seeded #2 overall in the bracket. She also has the advantage of being alive, not so Ms. Sayers, who was preceded in death only by Sir Arthur in the mystery bracket. Unlike Conan Doyle, Ms. Sayers could never get her offensive game in gear, perhaps intimidated by Evanovich's aggressive, in-your-face defense. The result was an easy 10-2 victory for Evanovich and a second round match up with Sue Grafton.

March Madness: Baskets

So, the official, real, basketball-based March Madness brackets are out. As has been noted in other places, Arizona, Maryland, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan really don't belong. I'm glad Wisconsin is in, don't get me wrong, but at 19-13 and without a "resume" win, they aren't a tournament team. You can't choke (only word that fits, I think) all the late game leads (seven, I think? Maybe eight) that this Badger team choked away and be a tourney team. Well, apparently you can... but you shouldn't be able to.

This is always the case, but it is a shame that a middling-to-bad Big Ten conference got seven bids, while teams like Creighton, St. Mary's, San Diego State and UAB were left out.

The other Wisconsin school, got a 6-seed, which seems about right. Before Dominique James' injury, they were probably a 3 or 4, but with his injury they just aren't the same team. I thought they had a shot at going pretty deep in the tourney, but without James, I'll be surprised if they make it to the Sweet 16.

But enough about basketball. How about some March Madness for books?!


Timshel is a Hebrew word, interpreted variously as "Thou shalt" (a promise of success), "Do thou (an order) and "Thou mayest" (an indication of freewill). As noted at Oprah's book club, the interpretation of the word is at the heart of John Steinbeck's East of Eden. Does the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis promise us that we, the children of Cain, will one day triumph over sin (predestination)? Does it order us to triumph over sin (unquestioning obedience)? Or, as the Chinese servant Lee notes in the book, does it "throw it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’"

'Thou mayest' is freeing-- and frightening. We have choices in determining our own destiny. What happens isn't predestined, nor does "just following orders" suffice. It calls for personal responsibility (another theme in East of Eden). It is not easy, but it does mean we should never despair completely-- there is always a choice. Sometimes none of the choices may be very appealing, but at least it is ours to make.

Heavy stuff for a Monday morning. But good stuff-- much, much food for thought. East of Eden has its flaws-- the two-dimensional nature of many of the main characters, the borderline misogyny, the sometimes stilted diaglouge-- but the descriptive power of Steinbeck's narrative, and the breath, poignancy and power of his story far outweigh the shortcomings.

Timshel, my friends. Timshel.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Remote Entry Into March Madness

If anyone out there is interested in participating in the March Madness Authors Showdown contest, but is unable to make it to the library in person, feel free to send me an email. I can email an entry form back to you, you can complete it and email it back and voila, you're entered.

The link to request an entry bracket is on the left side, under Contact Us.

Also-- the prizes for the weekly winners are $10 gift certificates to Espresso Love Coffee, an excellent coffeehouse here in Mukwonago. Many thanks to Katie and the fine staff at Espresso Love for their support of the Library-- if you're in Mukwonago, Espresso Love is the place to go.

Good luck with those brackets!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

And They're Off!

The March Madness Author's Showdown is begun!

This week there are several high profile match ups, including Isaac Asimov (well known for his hook shot as well as his genre defining Foundation and Robot novels) facing off against Robert Heinlein (believed to be the originator of the phrase 'There ain't no such thing as a free lunch' and famous for his fade away jump shot). Another intriguing first round pairing is the gritty, hard-edged crime fiction of Mickey Spillane going up against the more refined, intellectual crime solving chops of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While Spillane's main hero, Mike Hammer, is a powerhouse in the post who loves to block opponents' shots, Doyle's creation, Sherlock Holmes, is often regarded as a long distance marksmen, able to rain down three-point shots from nearly anywhere on the court.

Come pick your winners! Filling out a bracket is easy, and fun-- we don't require you to read all the authors. Just pick who you want and then see how your picks compare to the "game" results the following week.

And there are prizes! Each week, the patron whose bracket most closely matches the actual results will win a $10 gift card from our fabulous sponsor, Espresso Love Coffee. Espresso Love's coffees are outstanding, and their bakery items, quiche, soups and signature sandwiches are all delicious. Enjoy their tasty treats in a cozy, comfortable environment.

Stop into the library and grab a bracket by the reference desk. Once you fill it out, just return it to the friendly folks at the reference desk. Then tune in the following week to see how good your predictions were and how your favorite authors did.

Will Terry Pratchett's satirical genius and wicked bad cross-over dribble carry the day, or will Kurt Vonnegut's stream-of-consciousness writing and mad dunking skills prevail-- vote today and find out on Monday, March 16.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Rant or Rave: Movie Ratings

I've posted on this previously, but what can I say-- it's an evergreen. So a big Rant on the silliness of movie ratings:

Last Friday I was looking for some movies to watch over the weekend. I settled on Batman Begins, which I have seen, but was curious to watch again after having seen The Dark Knight not too long ago. Batman Begins is rated PG-13. The given reasons? "Intense Action Violence, Disturbing Images and Some Thematic Elements." Why all of the words are capitalized is beyond me, but let us set that aside as a minor irritant.

"Intense Action Violence." As opposed to... "Placid Action Violence"? And what exactly is "Action Violence"? Can you be violent without action? I guess there can be action without violence, though the former seems most often to be connected to the latter, but I really don't think there can be any other type of violence than action violence.

Moving on. "Disturbing Images". More understandable, and less redundant, than "Intense Action Violence" but really what does it tell us? Disturbing how? To whom? Not really all that helpful, but at least you got the gist of what they were attempting to warn you about.

Not so much with "Some Thematic Elements". Huh? Don't all movies have thematic elements? If there were no thematic elements, all you would have is a bunch of random scenes strung together for 90 minutes. You know, like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie-- rimshot! Seriously, is the warning that there are only SOME thematic elements as opposed to an entire movie filled with a coherent, well-established and developed theme? Somehow I don't think that is what the MPAA had in mind when they appended that particular phrase to their rating.

Parents strongly cautioned because of "Some Thematic Elements". That means nothing. Zip, zero, nada. This movie, for example, contains "Some Thematic Elements" but I doubt they'd earn the movie a PG-13. Though you could argue that parents should not allow their children to watch it under any circumstances.

Heck, as previously noted, the rating explanations aren't even consistent for movies within a series where each film varies only slightly from the previous versions. Here's the explanation for the R rating of Saw-- the violent, sadistic, horror flick that has inspired so many recent violent, sadistic, horror flicks: "Rated R for strong grisly violence and language." No weak grisly violence here.

Here's the explanation for Saw II's R rating:
"Rated R for grisly violence and gore, terror, language and drug content." So, the grisly violence is no longer strong, but there is gore and terror? But... ummm... I'm pretty sure there was a fair amount of gore and terror in the original, too.

Ok, ok, how about Saw III? "
Rated R for strong grisly violence and gore, sequences of terror and torture, nudity and language." Ah... so, the grisly violence has once more been working out, the gore has returned from #2 (pity there was no actual gore in #1), and now there are sequences of terror AND torture. Guess all those poor saps that died horribly in the first two movies weren't actually tortured.

Not so in Saw IV, whose rating is "R for
sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and for language." Now there is torture throughout, but the violence isn't strong (I doubt that), only grisly-- but it is bloody. No gore though. Bloody, but no gore. Uh huh. And the ever present "language". They really do need to stop talking so much in these movies. What a mishmash of uselessness.

Phah. Phah I say. Rate if you must, but let's stop with the preposterous "explanations".

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March Madness: Further Details

Once again here's the bracket for Week One:

If you've ever filled out an NCAA Men's Tournament Bracket, this is the same thing, only for authors. If not, well the process is pretty simple. Just pick a winner for each of the eight matchups, then pick a winner for the resulting four matchups, then pick a winner for the "competition" between the two remaining authors. A completed bracket might look like this:

The actual "winners" will be selected by the staff, and for every "winner" in the first round that you correctly picked, you'll get 1 point. For every winner in the second round, you'll get two points, and if you select a correct bracket "finalist" you'll get four points. A total of 24 point is possible for a week, if you pick everything perfectly. The winners will be posted over the course of the following week.

Whoever has the highest total each week will win a prize, and there will be a running total for the entire "tournament" with the highest cumulative total after five weeks winning the grand prize. Ties will be broken by a random draw from all entries with the highest total.

Stop in to the library and get a bracket-- it'll be fun. Week One brackets will be available on Monday, March 9 and will need to be turned in by 4:00 pm on Saturday, March 14.

Information About Your Library

The public library is meant to be just that-- public. We are a source of information, a window on the world, and a place for the community to come together and to discuss the issues and topics of the day. So, it is important that the administration of the library be transparent and accessible to the public the library serves.

To that end, we have now posted the minutes to the library board meetings on the library's web site. They are available under the Library Hours & Information link (you'll have to scroll down a little). If you have any questions regarding the minutes, or the operation of the library, I will be happy to take the time to answer your questions and respond to any concerns.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pizza Password Contest

Pizza Password Contest
March 2– 28, 2009
Open to grades 7-12

Discover the Pizza Password on Teen Territory at the Mukwonago Community Library's Facebook page and you could win a soda and a slice of pan-style pizza from Rocky Rococo Pizza! Email your name, grade, and the Pizza Password to

There will be four different passwords posted and five randomly chosen winners per password. Check back often to discover the new Pizza Password. You may enter once per password. All prizes must be picked up within 30 days at The Mukwonago Community Library.

(Hint: visit to get started.)

Quote for the Day

Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.
-- John Steinbeck, 1938

Rant or Rave: John Steinbeck

I vaguely remember reading John Steinbeck in high school-- The Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row, I think-- but only vaguely. I also remember thinking the former was pretty good, but that the dialogue was annoying because it was written to reflect how the characters actually pronounced the world. So that Rose of Sharon becomes Rosasharn. Of Cannery Row I have almost no memory whatsoever. I never read East of Eden or Of Mice and Men.

Okay, that's the set up for my rave-- what a difference a few decades can make in your perceptions. I recently finished listening to an audiobooks version of The Grapes of Wrath and it was spellbinding. The man could write. And tell a story. No small or mean feat. Lots of mediocre to good authors can write, but aren't all that great at telling a story. And vice-versa-- there are many very talented storytellers out there whose work will never ascend to the status of great because their writing is only decent. To have both is a rare thing, and Steinbeck puts his prodigious storytelling and writing talents to good use in The Grapes of Wrath.

The question for me then became-- why didn't I recognize the greatness of the book in high school? What was different about me, that made my reaction to the book so much stronger and more positive than the first time I read it?

I think the biggest single factor was my own experience-- having written both fiction and non-fiction, I have experienced the difficulty involved in writing even good material, much less great material, in a way that I had no conception of in high school. No conception of whatever. The level of detail Steinbeck leverages into his narrative is amazing-- doubly so because the narrative itself never seems to drag, never seems to be too "wordy".

Additionally, the setting (middle of the Great Depression) and the plot (poor farmers, forced to leave their Oklahoma farms because of banks and corporations) resonates with me very strongly right now. Hopefully, 2008 won't be this century's 1929 and the recession won't become a depression, much less a Great Depression, but the timing of my reading was very interesting.

Finally, I have to say that the audiobook version of The Grapes of Wrath was most excellent-- I am becoming a huge fan of a well-done audiobook. With an audiobook, Steinbeck's dialogue wasn't annoying or hard to decipher at all-- instead it became a rich part of the story itself. I was hearing the characters talk in the manner Steinbeck sought to capture when he wrote the diaglogue as he did. And it was really cool.
Publish Post

The ending was a letdown at first, it seemed so odd, abrupt and inconclusive, but after thinking about it for a while, I made my peace with it. It was still odd, but its non-resolution of what happened to all the major characters stopped bothering me-- the ending to the Joad's story probably shouldn't be too definitive.

Currently, I am nearly half-way through the audiobook version of East of Eden and liking it very much. Not quite as much as The Grapes of Wrath, but that would be a tall hurdle to clear.

So, a big rave for John Steinbeck and also for well-narrated and produced audiobooks!