Monday, May 24, 2010

Rant or Rave: The World Below

This is a Rant or Rave that I am surprised to be writing. Sue Miller is not "my kinda author". Frankly, though I had heard her name on a few occasions at the library, I really didn't know who she was, nor what kinds of books she wrote. It is sometimes difficult to break me out of my norms of historical fiction, classics, science fiction & fantasy and non-fiction. Certainly, if I was consciously to step outside those norms, I doubt Sue Miller would've even been on my list of potential authors to explore. Certainly, she would not have been near the top of that list.

Funny thing happened on the way to forum-- I heard Sue Miller speak at the Milwaukee Public Library Spring Literary Luncheon. More, I heard her read from her latest book, The Lakeshore Express. And I was impressed and engaged. Far more so than I expected. She was quite charming and interesting, and her book was good. Very good, actually.

So, upon returning to the Mukwonago Community Library, I checked to see if we had any of Ms. Miller's works on audiobook. And, lo and behold, we had The World Below on CD. And, lo and behold, it was good. Really, really good.

Oh, there are bits and pieces that don't quite fit, especially at the beginning, and there are a few places where the narrator describes events from the past in a level of detail and specificity far beyond what she could actually know about those events. But these are minor quibbles. The World Below references the human ability, skill and foible both, to present one version of yourself to the world, while maintaining a quite different perspective and history hidden below the surface. Known only to a few, and visible to others only at rare moments when circumstances are just right.

It resonated strongly with me, perhaps because from time to time, I find myself wondering what if? What if I had gone to prom with someone else? What if I had pursued a different course of study in college? What if I hadn't grown up in the country? What if, what if, what if? The World Below echoes those What Ifs, explores the ways we justify things in our past. Paper over some of the hurts and what ifs that didn't go at all the way we expected them to. It is a rich, deep look into human nature, particularly into the worlds we all create-- one on the surface, and one (maybe more) below.

The World Below is not an easy book. It twines together the life stories of several generations of one family, and following who is where is why is when can be challenging. But it is most definitely worth investing the necessary time and energy to fully appreciate. As an added bonus, it also does have a historical fiction section, as Miller's descriptions of Georgia Rice's stay in a Maine tuberculosis sanitarium added much to my understanding of what it must have been like to have TB in the early 20th century. I know of diseases like TB and polio, of course, but in a hypothetical "gee, that sounds bad" sort of way, rather than through any personal experience. Miller vividly transforms that theoretical understanding into something much more profound and personal with her elegant narrative.

It is a fine, fine book. Once I return from my current jaunt back into the classics (Great Expectations), I will give The Lakeshore Limited a read to see if it is as good, or better. Anyone else have any feedback on Sue Miller's work?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Budget Simulator

The size and growth of our nation's debt is an issue of concern to many, regardless of political affiliations or ideological preference. If you'd like to try your hand at reducing America's debt and developing a fiscally responsible federal budget, then go to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget's (CRFB) new budget simulator and give it your best shot.

It's an interesting exercise, and provides a pretty good overview of the areas where reductions can be achieved (though it makes no provisions for the actual political or social/cultural impacts of the various choices).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Scoopie Night for the Library

Plan your dinner for Monday, May 24 at the Mukwonago Culver's, where 10% of your purchase will benefit the library's expansion and renovation project. In addition, library volunteers (myself and other staff members included) will be serving food during the promotion.

This event is only from 4:30 to 7:30 pm, so lunch at Culver's that day won't help the library (though the food will no doubt be tasty). You will need a flier for us to get credit, which you can print out here. Additional fliers will be available at Culver's that night.

Come out for butter burgers and frozen custard on Monday night and help the library out at the same time-- Win/Win!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Self-Check Coming!

The library has ordered a self-checkout station, and it should be installed before the start of the Summer Reading Programs. This station will allow you to check out materials by simply scanning your card, then scanning the items you wish to check out. The process is very similar to the machines they now have at many grocery, department and home improvement stores.

Waukesha, New Berlin and many other libraries around the state and the country are using these stations, and all report that their customers find them easy to use and very convenient. The new checkout station will be just to the east of the circulation desk, where one of the catalog access computer stations is right now.

Holds, ILL and video game items will still need to be picked up at the circulation desk, but the rest of our materials should be able to be checked out at the new station once it is up and running.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rant or Rave: Dracula

In my continuing quest to catch up on "classic literature" that I should've read in high school or college, but didn't, I listened to Dracula last month. It was quite good, though if it weren't the first vampire novel, I doubt it would have lasted this long and generated so much follow-up literature. Parts of it are terribly melodramatic, in the 19th century tradition of idealized romance and British propriety, while a few parts make you roll your eyes at the obtuseness of the main characters.

Obtuse until you remind yourself that the characters aren't steeped in vampire lore, the way much of the western world is. The concept that Count Dracula could form from fog, or transform into a bat, or command wolves was brand new to everyone when Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897. So, you can forgive the main characters most of their complete blockheadedness in regards to the Count's activities.

Three interesting tidbits from Dracula that I had no idea about before reading it:
  • It is written entirely in the form of diary entries, newspaper articles and personal narratives. There is no "omniscient author". It gives the novel a very different feel than we are used to today, and also provides a fascinating glimpse into turn-of-the-century British mores and customs.
  • In addition to introducing the concept of vampires into popular culture, as well as the singularly evil Count Dracula, the novel also introduced the world to the stereotypical insane asylum resident, often caricatured in cartoons. In the novel, the patient Renfield plays a significant role, and Stoker's depiction of his psychosis and reaction to the proximity of the Count are clearly the inspiration for many portrayals of a "typical" madman on stage and screen.
  • Dracula also introduced the character of Van Helsing to the world. A dutch doctor who also happens to be familiar with the legends and myths of the eastern European lands. Van Helsing, though physically vibrant for his age, is far more intellectual and philosophical in Dracula than he is often portrayed as in later movies. Certainly NOT like the ripped, action-figuresque Hugh Jackman from the 2004 film.
The ending to Dracula is a bit abrupt, and far too conveniently coincidental for my tastes, but overall it is quite a fun read. In addition to the main storyline, the novel also provides some interesting insight into the culture, beliefs and science of its time. A fascinating century-plus long look backwards. So-- a fairly enthusiastic Rave for Dracula.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

Sorry for the long pause in posting. April wound up being a very busy month. Lots of programming and events, coupled with a significant increase in expansion project activity. April saw Spring Break week, Earth Day activities and more.

May will be busy too, partly in preparation for our Summer Reading Program challenges and events, but also with its own fun events. Registration for the children's and adult's summer reading challenge begins June 1, with the kickoff date of Monday, June 14. Join in the fun! This year's theme is a beach/water-related one, with Make A Splash @ the Mukwonago Community Library for the kids and Ride the Title Wave @ the Mukwonago Community Library for our adult patrons.

Join us Monday, May 24 between 4:30 and 7:30 at the Mukwonago Culver's for Scoopie Night. Bring along a flier and 10% of your order will be donated to the library's expansion fund. Copies of the flier are available to be printed off of our website. Details on the expansion project and its progress are available here.

Several Rant and Rave segments to come, as I have been listening and reading during the past month, just not posting as much (okay, at all). For details on other summer events and programs, be sure to check out our Youth Services web page and our Adult Services web page. You can also follow us on Facebook.