Books – And Where to Put Them

I’ve always had books – possessed books. Some I have yet to read but it is reassuring to know that I can read them. Other things get in the way. I know that’s a little odd but I’m sure I’m not the only one with this affliction. Now, I have a goodly share of books and when I go to the library I stop by the “free books” cart and often bring home one or two more. I went to the American Library Association (ALA) convention in Las Vegas a couple years ago and came home with sixty-five books….most being advance reader copies. Some of those became best sellers. By the way – I heartily recommend the ALA convention for anyone who likes books or is interested in the world of publishing.

About four years ago, when I was down-sizing and selling my house in the Midwest, I went through my book collection and disposed of several boxes of books and also several large bookcases. It was going to cost me a dollar per pound to move my stuff 1,000 miles to the desert so I was pretty ruthless in getting rid of some of my belongings. I was surprised that some books were too precious to dispose of even though I had read them years before and would not read them again. There was some sort of bond between me and these books. Who possessed who?

Now that I’m in a smaller space, storage is an important issue. I have five or six short bookcases – small, squatty and portable things dispersed in several rooms so that now I can’t find anything when I want it. I have a couple boxes of books in the garage that never found a place on a shelf. So here I am looking for a better solution.

I built myself an office – essentially converting part of an unused porch into a bright and cheery “Green Room” — and I spend most of my time there. The sliding glass door opens to the rear portal of my house and I frequently have Roadrunners or desert cottontails looking in. It has a brick floor, my vintage craftsman library desk, Windsor desk chair, a wicker reading chair and foot stool, and a functional (but unsatisfactory) short bookcase. You know the type – the folding bookcase that you buy at Target stores or at Wal-Mart. So, I’m looking for something bigger and permanent that fits into this somewhat eclectic, but small, office space.

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I’ve started noticing bookcases in other people’s homes. Are they organized in a certain way? Do they seem private or open to visitors? Are they displaying books or storing books? What else do they have besides books? How big are the bookcases and do they have more than one? A friend had a carpenter come in and install a wall of polished walnut bookcases in the living room – a built-in and permanent feature. She has all sorts of things on display, including books, art objects and a framed letter from Queen Elizabeth II. As a collector myself, I can imagine putting things out on display and I seldom take a walk without carrying something back home. But a display case is not really what I’m looking for in this instance.

As the family historian, I have five three-ring binders of family material. I’ve been bouncing around in genealogical circles long enough that people contact me about one thing or another and those binders are packed in a box in the garage and not readily available. I have outdoor and gardening books, field guides, fishing books, design and architecture books, art and photography books of every shape and size. People give me books as Christmas or birthday presents. Most of my current collection is history books and biographies – some over 100 years old. It’s not going to be easy making sense of this.

I went to look at Architectural Digest magazine…I usually have four or five lying around. That was pretty fruitless because I’m obviously not the AD type – or at least my little office isn’t. My crazy collection would not be very appealing to the eye. My next step is to go ransack a few antique stores to see what they might have.

Books are like friends in a way. You want them to be comfortable and have a permanent place in your home. I’ll let you know how this comes out – any suggestions are welcome.

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Few Regrets

I seem to be a man of few regrets.

Oh sure… I’d like to play the mandolin.

I tried once but since I’m no fan of Bluegrass

it seemed somewhat pointless at the time.

 

Oh sure…I’d like to be fluent in Spanish and Italian.

But when you go to Italy or Spain they all speak English.

In Peru I was understood just fine with what I know.

 

Oh sure…I’ve said a few things I’d like to take back.

Who hasn’t? We hear ourselves and think:

“How angry must I be to even think that?”

 

Oh sure…I’ve lost touch with some friends I knew.

Or maybe they lost touch with me. At least

I’ve always made an effort. They can find me easy enough.

 

Oh sure…I could have been better as a husband…as a father.

I could have asked more and not assumed I knew the answer.

I could have said more, too.

 

I seem to be a man of few regrets.

Some speak of a heavy burden of regret. 

What we did or didn’t…what we do.

I read Joseph Conrad — there are plenty regrets there.    

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Hooks and Feathers — Chapter Two

My life as a fly fisherman started off slow and went into suspended animation for a few years. I actually didn’t own my own fly rod until 1975. My limited fly fishing experiences were centered around visits to my uncle’s cabin on the Big Piney River in the Missouri Ozarks and that was almost exclusively fishing for bass or pan fish with small “poppers”. If any of you readers have ever had the experience of visiting Fort Leonard Wood you roughly know the spot I’m talking about. The Big Piney runs along the eastern boundary of the fort and on many days we could hear artillery firing in the distance. After a while you don’t even notice. My uncle grew up spending summers with relatives in that area back in the 1920s and 1930s – depression era. Fishing back then was for subsistence and it wasn’t uncommon to hear stories about fishing with dynamite. My uncle’s family would sometimes use a seine to herd fish up on the sandbars so they could pick out what they needed. Of course that was 80 years ago, times were hard, there was no work and people were starving.

Trout of any kind – Rainbows, Brook, Browns or Cutthroat – are not native to Missouri. The thousands of miles of Ozark streams are mostly too warm for trout to spawn and produce a self-sustaining population. Sometime in the late 1800s railroads were being built through the region and – as the story goes – railroad workers would salt the Ozark streams with trout for their own enjoyment or to supplement their food supply. This seems unlikely to me but, anyway, the fish arrived somehow and would live out their life but most would not spawn. A few found safe havens in the dozens of cold springs that feed into the creeks and rivers with water temperatures low enough for small breeding populations to develop in isolated areas. Only a few local people knew about these new-comers but they were alien fish and there was no real effort to fish for them. Today there are still a few protected places where these small populations hang on. troutseasonopenerMost of the trout in Missouri’s streams are stocked on a scheduled basis by the Department of Conservation. There are a few put and take trout parks where fish are released each morning and caught by fishermen who pay for the privilege by buying a daily trout tag. That kind of fishing has never really appealed to me but there are thousands of Missouri fishermen who show up on March 1st to stand shoulder to shoulder to pull fish out of the stream only a few hours after they were released. Most catch their limit by 10 AM and have to stop for the day but it all starts up again the next morning.

So – I spent a few years using borrowed equipment fishing for smallmouth bass and whatever else would take a popper. I caught a gar once. It was, for me, loads of fun and it was nice being out in the wild enjoying the solitude. You can tell what you have on your line by how the fish behaves when it is caught. A largemouth bass will take a nose dive until you muscle it out of whatever hole it found and then it will put up a fight. Smallmouth will usually be in swift and shallow water and will try to make a run for it. Pan fish, like perch or bluegills, are indignant at being caught and will fight from the very start and will keep it up even when you have them landed. Since I very seldom keep a fish – maybe one or two every couple years – they all go back into the water a little sore but wiser.  I’m a fish educator in that respect.

Joie Bighorns 75I managed to meet a girl and fell in love in the early 1970s. Joanne did not fish but she was a reader and would go with me and read a book while I would fish. If you know me or followed some of my blog posts you might know about our backpacking trip in 1975 because I’ve mentioned it before. It was sort of a courtship trip. She was a city creature and the very idea of trudging through the wilds with a pack on her back was a foreign concept. But, when I asked her if she wanted to go she said “yes” to my amazement and everlasting joy. Her friends and family thought she was nuts to go off into the wilderness with this guy she only knew for a few months. What was she thinking?

After a couple more months of looking at maps and reading about trails we decided on the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area. I knew we didn’t want to go someplace too rugged because we were not experienced and the Big Horns looked to be accessible and the trails were reasonable. There were also a lot of places to fish.  We assembled our gear and took a couple break-in hikes with our new boots and our packs loaded to about the weight we figured we would have. We took a couple weekend Ozark backpack trips to try out the tent and the stove and some of the delicious freeze-dried food (yuk). We ended up experimenting with food and Joanne tried a few things until we finally settled on some things we could eat. Since I had never driven a manual transmission car I had to get a crash course because we were driving her Ford Pinto with a stick shift into the mountains.

scan0004We set out for Wyoming in July of 1975 and had a number of adventures along the way. Joanne wanted to see a herd of buffalo out on the Great Plains and we managed to find one but almost lost the car in a ravine. That was also the trip where we encountered a bear but that is another story.  Amazingly, we ran into my brother and sister-in-law at a KOA campground in Colby Kansas. We finally made it to Wyoming and soon were in sight of the Big Horns Mountains. I still didn’t have a fly rod or flies or a net or much of anything I needed for my trout fishing. When we got to Sheridan I wandered into a sporting goods store that was well stocked with fishing gear and staffed with someone who knew what I was going to need. I walked out of the store with a four-piece fiberglass fly rod suitable for backpacking, a bargain basement reel, fly line and leader, a bunch of flies, a net and a few other odds and ends. Up to this point I had never caught a trout but now I was a trout fisherman. Or at least that’s what I thought and Joanne went along with it.

tongueriverWe drove up into the mountains and camped at a pleasant little place called Dead Swede Campground. We wondered what he died from…maybe mosquito bites. This was a national forest campsite located along the Tongue River. Joanne was beginning to wonder about this trip – dead swedes, Tongue River, mosquitos. I decided I would assemble all of my fishing gear and head over to the river bank and try my luck. I bought a fishing license in Sheridan with all my stuff so I was ready. Fishing with flies is a little different from fishing with poppers but I sort of got the hang of it after a few minutes. My smallmouth and pan fish experience was helpful but this was a faster stream than I was used to. The Tongue River was maybe twenty-five feet across and was making a slow curve downstream toward the left. The faster and deeper water was on my side of the river as it moved around the bend. I tied a fly on my line…I think it was a ZugBug. I stood there big and tall on the bank flailing the water for about fifteen minutes when suddenly I tied into a fish. It was dumb luck. I was astounded.  The fish put up a pretty good fight but I don’t remember all of it. I looked around and realized I didn’t have my net. I was winning the contest with the fish – he was well hooked – but I had no idea how to get him landed. The rod was bent almost in half and I figured the line would break. Everything held together and I got him out of the water and over on the grass. He was about nine or ten inches long and was still feisty. I was disappointed (and clueless) about his size but I gleefully ran back to the campsite to show off my catch, pose for an appropriate photograph and then ran back and released the fish back into the river because he was too small.  There were two other fishermen nearby who were looking at me funny and asked why I released the fish. “Too small” I said but the look I got was puzzling. Apparently that was a good sized fish for this river. It was the first trout I ever caught and I was happy – even thinking it was too small. Unfortunately, the photograph didn’t come out because I wasn’t standing still – I was practically running in place – and the fish was outside of the frame when Joanne snapped the picture. That was well before digital cameras so we didn’t know for a couple weeks that my first trout evaded the camera. That wasn’t the last time.

001We finally made it to the trailhead and started on our backpacking trip. We didn’t plan on going far – only a few miles into the wilderness where we would set up a base camp for a few days. This was higher elevation than what we were used to and we were carrying about 130 pounds of gear.  It was slow going. Joanne needed encouragement a few times. I devised a plan to keep her going by promising she could have a few M&Ms every half mile or so. Luckily I had a good supply of M&Ms. We hiked along one of the branches of Tensleep Creek and crossed into the wilderness. The trip was uneventful except for an explosive encounter with a mule deer that was concealed beneath the lower branches of a hemlock tree. When we came too close it jumped out and ran off through the forest. I almost soiled myself but I stayed calm and waved the M&M bag in the air and we kept on walking. After a few hours and most of a bag of M&Ms we reached our destination. We camped on a high spot away from the stream where the wind kept the mosquitos at bay. I fished in the stream every day and caught a bunch of colorful trout but they were the size of hot dogs. We were up high enough that the fish would only grow about the length of your hand. We kept a few and had one trout dinner – roasted them like hot dogs on a stick. They were better than what we carried with us but I really didn’t like eating them and Joanne was happy with what other food we had. I fished up and down the creek but didn’t keep any more fish. We had met a group of backpackers from Iowa who were heading up into the wilderness and they said they didn’t need much food because they were planning on catching fish. I suspect they might have been hungry much of the time.

So, anyway, I was now a fly-fishing devotee with a few trout under my belt. I was happily connected to this wonderful woman who would later that year consent to be my wife and life partner. We were married in January and there were many more fish in my future and many more books read along river banks or in tiny boats in her future.

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 Next: Arkansas and the Little Red River

 

A Shelf of Books

trinity booksA couple weeks ago I was challenged by a friend to list a number of books that I’ve read that I liked or thought may have had an influence on my life. I was away from home and begged off for a while but here is a list. I’ve done this before and the list was different so I guess these things change based on our perspective. There are books that are not listed…the Bible for example…but I count that as a given. The Oregon Trail (Francis Parkman) and Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek (Annie Dillard) are two others. The books are not listed in any particular order.

Young Stalin – by Simon Sebag Montefiore

This is a fascinating biography of Josef Stalin…maybe one of the best biographies I’ve read on any person. The national archives of Georgia were recently opened and revealed new information on Stalin’s younger years. He was a poet and a pirate and studied to be a priest but ended up being a major revolutionary and fund raiser (by various means) for Lenin and the Bolsheviks. One crazy factoid from the book…Vladimir Putin’s grandfather was the cook for Rasputin, Lenin and Stalin.

The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events – edited by Bernard Grun

This is a helpful resource and reference book that outlines events happening all over the world at the same time. It gives a reader a great perspective on historical events and achievements in several different categories.

To Kill a Mockingbird – by Harper Lee

Of course. This is a classic that reveals small town life in the rural south….and the racial injustice and superstition that was part of that existence.

Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863 – by Shelby Foote,  AND The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862-July 1863 – by Shelby Foote

Shelby Foote wrote a huge multi-volume history of the Civil War in great detail. If you can’t read that set, read at least one of Foote’s smaller books that focus on Vicksburg or Gettysburg. Shelby Foote is dead now but if you saw the Ken Burns’ Civil War series you will hear Foote’s voice as you read these books.

Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician – by Anthony Everitt

This is another good biography of a Roman statesman, politician and writer. It would be a good background to reading his various works. The workings of the Roman Senate is interesting.

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America – by Russell Shorto

My ancestors were Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam and the Hudson River Valley. This book provides a view of what it was like before the English and Americans took over. The Dutch were a tolerant and commercially focused group. Much of that stayed as part of the make-up of Manhattan’s future.

Snow Falling on Cedars – by David Guterson

This book focused on injustice and prejudice directed toward Japanese Americans….something that I knew little about. It takes place in the Puget Sound area in the early 1950s and involves the death of a fisherman and the prosecution of a Japanese-American war veteran.

The Nigger of the Narcissus / Lord Jim/ Heart of Darkness – by Joseph Conrad

Pick one…I admit that I’m a sucker for Josef Conrad. I like the time period his books cover and the dark characters. Just pick one and read it.

The Snow Leopard – by Peter Matthiessen

I am also a sucker for Peter Matthiessen and have read several that I like (there are more on this list). This is an account of Matthiessen’s trek through the Himalayas in search of a Snow Leopard….but there’s more. He was also on the journey trying to cope with the grief from his wife’s recent death. I read this book a long time ago but I can relate somewhat.

Life on the Mississippi   – by Mark Twain

Okay — I can’t think of a book by Mark Twain that I haven’t enjoyed. I could have listed any of them but this one is more of a memoir and, since I was born in St. Louis…on the Mississippi…I was fascinated by what the “Golden Age” of river travel was like….at least from Twain’s perspective.

The Coffee Trader – by David Liss

Coffee beans were very exotic and forbidden in 17th century Amsterdam. Miguel Lienzo, a Jewish refugee from Portugal, becomes involved in the secretive coffee trade….before people really knew what to do with it. A good read if you like historical fiction.

Killing Mister Watson / Lost Man’s River / Bone by Bone (a trilogy) – by Peter Matthiessen,

Matthiessen’s trilogy of the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands is published in one shortened volume as Shadow Country but I struggled through the three earlier books from the 1990s. It is an interesting story about the murder of a land owner who terrified the local settlers and storekeepers. There wasn’t much law in the Everglades in 1910 and these three books show different sides and differing accounts of the events of that time.

The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy – by Shelby Foote, Walker Percy, Jay Tolson (editor)

Wow — people used to write letters and sometimes folks saved the letters and then, years later, somebody else came along and read them. Foote and Percy were childhood friends and both grew up to be authors in Mississippi and New Orleans and other places. A good deal of the material in the letters is about the process of writing and publishing along with family stories, births and marriages.

All the Strange Hours – by Loren Eisley

I think I read most of Loren Eisley’s books back in my twenties. I get them confused so this is more of a place holder for all of his books not just one. I suspect they are no longer in print but there was a dark and earthy feel to his writings and his observations and they had an impact on me.

The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West & Fails Everywhere Else – by Hernando DeSoto

This is by the economist, not the explorer. De Soto, a Peruvian economist, explains why there is such a struggle in third-world countries. Nobody really owns — has legal title — to what they possess because the system of ownership hasn’t evolved to the point that someone can use property as collateral. He worked hard to try to fix the problems in several countries. The Marxist rebels in Peru thought he was so dangerous that they put a price on De Soto’s head.

Quest In The Desert – by Roy Chapman Andrews

This guy was the real Indiana Jones and I remember getting this book off the library bookmobile in grade school. I was hooked from the start. He had dinosaurs named after him!

If I do this again in a couple years the list will be different.

Jack the Talking Crow and Other Tales

On Surviving School and Learning a Little Along the Way — Pardon my self-indulgence. It’s Funny how things come back to you while you are doing something else. I was writing on an entirely different topic when I took a turn and ended up here. I guess sometimes things have to break out of your head and land on paper. This is a rambling autobiographical account of my early days in elementary school back in the “Leave it to Beaver” era.

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I was one of those students that, if in elementary school today, would be spending quality time with the school psychologist and probably diagnosed as having some degree of attention deficit disorder.  Somehow I learned that putting words on paper was fulfilling at this early age. Kids at this age are looking for something that they excelled at and I was a champion reader. I read early and often so I became familiar with how ideas were expressed on paper. Conversation was sporadic and disjointed but when an idea was committed to paper it had to be clear and complete. I can actually remember learning about the period and experiencing one of those light-bulb moments when it became clear that when someone was trying to communicate an idea they had to do it before the period showed up. Periods and commas did not just appear at random.  I also figured out that before you can really be a writer you need to have something to write about. Luckily, there was so much going on in my world that the normal school work of arithmetic and cursive writing were an intrusion.

In first grade we had Jack the talking crow who would come and sit on our class window sill and entertain the kids and aggravate the teacher. The windows were at ground level and Jack would just walk up, like crows do, and peer in the window. If it was warm and the windows were open he would hop in and walk up and down the window sill. Jack was wild and big and the girls were terrified — which made his visits to first grade so much more enjoyable. The school legend was that Jack had been captured by a neighborhood ne’er-do-well and had his tongue split and somehow he learned to talk. We hung on every word but he wasn’t much of a conversationalist.  My first grade teacher went nuts (literally) and had to leave about two-thirds of the way through the school year. Maybe Jack had something to do with it.  We could see it coming; she had been going downhill for a while and the Christmas vacation must have sent her over the edge. She hung on for a few weeks but eventually she “went to Chicago”.   As a result, we were parceled out to other classes like refugees for the last few months of the school year. Each classroom develops a culture after a few months so we were alien beings in our new surroundings and Jack the Crow couldn’t seem to find us. The other kids were crow-deprived and had no experiences with Jack and figured we were as crazy as our old teacher.

In second grade my teacher was a rookie straight out of Little Rock, Arkansas. We only understood about half of what she said (I swan!). We liked her mostly due to the novelty of her approach to English. We all sounded like southern aristocracy after a couple months. She seemed very young even to us. She couldn’t have been over twenty-five.  We liked her a lot. Since we had more tenure at the school than she did we could stretch the rules and she didn’t know any better.

The novelty of second grade got even better because my school caught fire and burned down during the Christmas vacation. The students were farmed out to local church basements where tables and a few salvaged desks were arranged around portable blackboards.  I actually had nothing to do with the fire but I recall having my picture taken in a triumphant pose next to the smoking ruins. I suspect that there were a lot of similar pictures of other kids. They said it was faulty wiring up in the attic that started the fire. The school was old and decrepit but it was better than the church basements we had to report to in January.  The teachers and students struggled to keep things moving ahead but conditions were terrible.

Those years spent in the church basements I count as my missing years.  I spent most of my time concealed behind the blackboard copying lessons that everyone else copied ten minutes earlier. I was too busy at the time but was expected to catch up and to this day I’m still running about ten minutes behind. Sometimes the blackboards flipped so I was back there trying to copy the lesson upside down. I was right side up…the lesson wasn’t.  Sometimes there were several of us back there and it was great fun until the teacher figured it out. Third grade was a total loss. We were in the dungeon at the local Missionary Baptist Church. I didn’t know churches had dungeons and if they did I was sure that mine, being a semi-rural, hard-rock Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, would have a doozy plus some torture equipment. But my experience among the Baptists was bleak and foreboding. I remember it as dark with bare light bulbs and no windows and I really needed windows. My third grade teacher was a hatchet-faced lady who was always in a bad mood. I have to give the teachers credit because the working conditions were terrible and I’m sure (now, being much older) that they tried very hard to keep us on track. Some of our text books were water damaged and smelled of smoke so no one even wanted to touch them. Everything was makeshift.  In third grade I don’t even recall having recess.

The sky opened in fourth grade. We were no longer in a church basement but were in a funny looking asbestos cardboard type of building. All of the exterior walls were asbestos. It had lots of windows and was full of all kinds of cool stuff like bird nests and hornet nests and fossils and some real stuffed animals…never mind the asbestos. We had class pets and terrariums and pen pals. This was heaven and the teacher was an angel. I have friends from that period who stayed in contact with that teacher well into adulthood. I was finally inspired to write what was bouncing around in my head and some of it was good. My life behind the blackboard ended and I was welcomed with open arms back into the society of fourth graders.

As luck would have it, they rebuilt the school and we finally moved back in at the start of fifth grade. This was my first male teacher. I didn’t know they came in that variety.  Up until this time I figured all teachers were women…except for the music teacher who was a little bit odd and peevish and was easily provoked into spasms of rage.

The new school was a disappointment as it looked just like the old school. Our teacher was a part-time Baptist minister whose day job was trying to teach something, anything, to ten year olds. I was a little wary of the Baptist minister connection because I still had haunting memories of third grade. As it turned out, he mostly enjoyed having the little girls sit on his lap.  The boys were free to do anything that wasn’t too disruptive. I was a budding scholar by this time and was beginning to get the idea that if I was going to learn anything useful I was going to have to teach myself. Unfortunately, my interests didn’t always coincide with the classroom material. I would write letters and ask people to send me information. I wrote to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and got a large bundle of material on King Tut, Luxor and Giza. My parents had an old Crosley radio with a shortwave band that I used to listen to English language broadcasts from Paris and (God forbid!!) Moscow. I wrote off to the Paris broadcasters and received a bundle of information and ended up on their mailing list for several years. What they sent was very technical and way over my head but it was still cool getting mail from France. I had a pen pal in England and we sent letters back and forth for a couple years.

This was 1957 and the floodgates had opened and we didn’t have time for this mundane school stuff. Everything was cool. Cars had huge fins and soon the Edsel was introduced. Elvis was on the television…or at least his upper half. This was the International Geophysical Year for heaven’s sake! Sputnik was flying around overhead. I managed to be sick (wink, wink) the day the USA tried to launch our Vanguard rocket in an attempt to catch up to the Soviets. I was tuned in on the old Crosley when they launched it and the sucker blew up on the launch pad. I was mortified because I was sure I could hear Sputnik’s little beep-beep on the shortwave laughing at us.    I remember when a kid smuggled the first transistor radio into school and we had to attach the wire aerial to a chain link fence in the schoolyard to pick up anything and then you could only barely hear it. We still had a classroom schedule but it was often interrupted by TB patch tests, fire drills, tornado drills and atomic bomb drills.  This was the year I joined the school band.

My band career was relatively short lived. I struggled with the clarinet for two years. We still had the same old music teacher and he served as our band director. He was even more high-strung when working with the school band. His nerves were shot and he was beginning to hold grudges. If you did something wrong you were on his list forever. We only performed one piece of music,  the Our Director March” by F. E. Bigelow. We made no attempt to learn anything else and I can still hear it in my head. Even at the Christmas assembly we played the Our Director March. One day I managed to get tangled up in several music stands and caused a racket and the music teacher suffered a melt-down. I had apparently been on his list for some time already and this was the last straw. We were both yelling and somewhere along the way I told him what he could do with the clarinet. That was the end of my music career.

In my elementary school, sixth grade was the “senior” class. The teacher that year was a nice lady with hairy arms who meant well but had no idea what was going on in class…or should I say out of class.  All the boys seemed to have weak bladders that year and we tended to congregate, one by one, in the boys’ bathroom several times a day. Our classroom and the bathrooms were on the second floor. If one was so inclined, one could climb out the boys’ bathroom window and walk sideways on the ledge, flat against the brick wall of the building, and peek into the girls’ bathroom (much to the delight of any of the girls who happened to be there). One could also go the other direction and peek into the classroom window.  I’m not sure what the local neighbors thought about kids being on the second floor ledge during class time but they apparently never called the school to report it. At one point the teacher noticed that most of the boys were missing and had been gone for quite a while. She decided to investigate and stormed into the boys’ bathroom.  As eleven year olds, we were scandalized that she would dare to enter this male sanctuary. In spite of our protests, we were frog-marched back to class…all of us except for the kid out on the ledge.  It never occurred to her that someone would be out there. That episode put a damper on our ledge walking for a while. We had one kid who would still occasionally spend time on the ledge but most of us found other diversions.  We had to get serious because we were heading to Junior High!

Of Libraries and Librarians

I found myself at the American Library Association (ALA) convention held in Las Vegas last week. I’m not a librarian but my daughter is a researcher/librarian/archivist for a state historical society. She was going and asked if I’d like to go along. We only see each other a couple times a year so it was a good chance to catch up and visit Las Vegas. For a mere thirty dollars I got a pass to the exhibition hall for four days that allowed me to mingle with publishers and librians of all kinds.

There are all kinds of librarians. We mostly think of public library librarians but there are academic librarians, school librarians, children/young adult librarians, corporate librarians and various types of archivists. There is sort of a caste system — not all librarians are “real” librarians but, to me, they are if they do the work of a librarian regardless of education or accreditation. Librarians also defy the usual mental picture we have of matronly, gray-haired ladies who reign over the reading room with a stern look or a ‘shhhss’. Many of the librarians I saw come no where close to that perception. There are a large number of men who are librarians. I saw green and orange hair, lots of tattoos and some body piercings that would cause that old library-lady to keel over in her tracks.  Libraries are high tech information centers and librarians are keeping up with the evolving technology. Most libraries have some sort of public access computer center presided over by a librarian. Libraries usually have some level of web presence which takes someone with technical knowledge to maintain. 

There were dozens of publishers at the convention and most were giving away books and were having author signing sessions. I came home with over forty books and paid for only three and the prices were ridiculously low. Publishers ‘get’ libraries and librarians. They know that libraries buy books and through libraries they, and their authors, make a connection to readers. I went to several cooking demonstrations sponsored by publishers and cookbook authors. I learned how to make cheese and butcher a hog and make chorizo.

Several years ago the ALA initiated the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction.  This year’s winners were Donna Tartt for fiction (for The Goldfinch) and Doris Kearns Goodwin for nonfiction (for The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism).  Both authors were present and made accaptance speeches that were very supportive of libraries. There were other authors in attendance at the convention including Jane Fonda, Stan Lee, Lois Lowry, Alexander McCall Smith, John Lewis and Azar Nafisi.

It is trendy and cute to say that books and libraries are going to disappear because they will be replaced by electronic ‘books’ that we will all access online. I don’t believe that and neither should you.  There were close to 20,000 librarians at the convention and they all have a fire burning inside for books and a passion for libraries and getting books to readers. Sure, some books are electronic versions that are downloaded to tablets or e-readers but most of a typical library’s colletion is hard or paper bound printed books. I personally don’t see any reason for debate on this issue. There will be books and libraries 100 years from now. Unfortunatly the biggest threat to libraries is funding. Those old buildings cost a lot to maintain and sit on costly real estate. Some library systems are downsizing or seeking alternatives to stand-alone facilities. Some of these new shared facilities are community service centers. 

Libraries in larger cities and even in small towns become the daytime habitat of homeless street people. That presents a problem for librarians trying to maintain a positive and open environment for patrons. Some libraries struggle with this and limit access by homeless folks. Other libraries tolerate it and try to manage it as best they can and try to head off conflicts with patrons, Some libraries recognize that they may have a role in serving this marginal group of patrons who use libraries as day rooms or sanctuaries, especially in foul weather. I saw an article today in a local paper that announced that the Albuquerque public library will hire a full time nurse to provide service to their homeless patrons. Other libraries are doing the same and some have full time social workers.  Instead of withering away, the role of libraries, and librarians, is expanding and responding to emerging needs in the community.

Who Was That Guy?

Have you ever met yourself?  Not like some sort of “know thyself” touchy-feely exercise. I mean really meet someone, a complete stranger, who is essentially you at a younger age. I have and it’s spooky. When it happened I was immediately struck by the parallel life choices and the coincidental events that led the two of us strangers  to be at the same place at the same time. After it was over, even now, I am somewhat amazed and wonder how this happened. I perceive myself as being a little different from most guys based on my interests, life experiences, sense of humor, etc.  What would I say to myself at a younger age?

I was on a solo vacation trip, over 1,000 miles from home, and had spent the day visiting a few places that appeal to me but would not appeal to many other tourists. That’s often the way I travel. I might be considered a little bookish and perhaps overly thorough when I plan a trip. Planning is half the fun but I am also just as likely to strike off on an unplanned tangent way off the beaten path. On this day I had spent several hours driving up a dusty canyon road to visit an old archaeological site that used to be famous but has since been pushed aside by other discoveries. Once I got back to civilization I decided to stop at a microbrewery close to my hotel. I sat at the bar and struck up a casual and sporadic conversation with the bar maid — I brew beer and we talked about different styles and what they were brewing. What they had on tap was pretty good and the place was a beer geek’s paradise. They even had a blackboard where they recorded the brew details, dates and specific gravity….really.

After a while a young guy in his mid 20s took the bar stool next to me and ordered a beer and started reading a book. The book was ‘The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn’ by Nathaniel Philbrick. This is not a book I’ve read but one I’d probably like to read and by an author I have read. I asked him how the book was and we ended up talking at length about authors and various books. We had read the same books in many instances and some others by the same authors. If you have ever met an old friend after many months or years apart and began talking like you had never been separated — this was almost what the experience was like.  It turned out that we had the same interests. He was a government researcher who had moved to this city a while back and was about to get married in the next few months. This is somewhat close to my own experience at the same age. We talked for quite a while and had several beers. We talked about our work careers and job changes and hobbies and the more we talked the more it seemed like I was talking to myself at an age almost 40 years younger than I am now. Pretty soon it was time to go find something to eat so we parted ways and said our goodbyes. I have no idea who this guy was but as I left I really wanted to tell him to hang in there and stick with his plans and that it was all going to work out OK in the end.