I performed prodigies today. I took a second pass through the Mystery shelves, coming at the missing accession numbers from a different angle. I checked each book against its database record. I found that in many cases two different books have been given the same accession number. So I assigned new numbers and cleared those. I also found that in a number of instances the computer and the list thought we had only one copy, but there were in fact two copies. Again I assigned new numbers and cleared the books.
My pile of corrected books now boasts considerably more copies than the Mystery shelves do. In fact the Mystery shelves are now down to one shelf and change. I took some satisfaction in a job well done.
But only some.
Because in my world,
But the books I still can’t clear—ah, those books are important. Those books Matter. They glower at me from their shelves, a silent indictment of my failures as a librarian, as a man, and as a vertebrate.
That was how I was raised, you see. It never mattered what I’d done. What mattered was the imperfections, small and hard to find though they might be. They were always located, and always punished. (If you’re wondering how that relates to my statement the other day that my dad was patient—well, the problem wasn’t Dad.)
So that’s how I think. I could never do one of those really vital jobs, like being a policeman or a fireman or a doctor, because a mistake that meant a life lost would absolutely destroy me.
It’s a bad attitude for a Christian.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop, a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9, NIV)
An important lesson of this story, one I think is often overlooked, is the optimism of the sower. One presumes that the sower knows his work, has done this before, and knows that three-quarters of his seed is going to be wasted.
And yet he scatters the seed anyway, confident that the one-fourth that finds good soil will yield enough to make it all worthwhile.
That’s faith raised to the level of heroism.
Today I did detective work. Not the vital, sometimes dangerous kind done by policemen, but the sort of detective work librarians do, which is about all the excitement I need, thank you.
When I took over as Autocrat of the Stacks, the staff was at work on a barcoding project, affixing little sticky labels with barcodes and numbers to the covers of the books, with an eye to a future date when we’ll be able to do check-out and check-in electronically. The barcode numbers are the books’ accession numbers. They're recorded by hand in the books themselves and in a series of looseleaf binders, and also in our cataloging database.
As might be expected, there were glitches. I have a couple shelves in the workroom devoted to books for which no proper barcode label can be found.
My job, when I choose to give it time, is to figure out what went wrong with those books. I find it stimulating work, offering the challenge of a mystery without the complications of physical danger or icky human contact.
The most common problem seems to be that of transposing numbers. Somebody sees the number 1845, and his brain registers 1854. That creates an obvious problem when the real 1854 comes up, so that book ends up on my Mystery Shelves.
Another popular mistake arises from propinquity. The library asssistant reaches for 1845, but, somehow, his hand lights on 1846 without his noticing it.
Sometimes there’s been a problem in recording the numbers. The number in the book may not match the number in the computer. The original accessioning librarian may have written the book in on the wrong line in the binder, or accidentally assigned the same number to two books.
All these common mistakes give me routes I can follow to identify the problems and restore decency and order to my realm. I was able to fix the problems on about a third of the books I went through today, and that’s a good batting average.
But there remain the Universal Mysteries, the books whose barcoding problems admit of no rational solution. Sometimes as we go through our inventory we discover those books, and their errors are incomprehensible. A label for 20422 placed on a book numbered 17365? Why? How did this happen?
Without suggesting any kind of equivalence, I believe this is the same kind of thing real detectives face. There are some crimes that make no sense and can’t be reasoned out, cold cases that have to be filed away, leaving only heartburn behind. Sherlock Holmes never solved the Jack the Ripper murders. Not only because Holmes was only a fictional character, but also because the Ripper murders weren’t solvable by pure reason. Some human actions result from the intersection of plain evil and pure chance. Reason need not apply.
As a Christian I agree in large part with the rational view of the pure scientist. Like him, I believe that the universe is essentially logical (though I believe it for a different reason).
But God made things messy when he introduced into the experiment beings not wholly rational. People don’t always act sensibly, or even for their own benefit. Fear injects variables, as does principle. The world gets messy, and lots of questions are left unanswered.
I guess that’s one reason I like to read mysteries. I like seeing reason triumphant, loose ends tied up.
It’s not quite like real life, but if I want real life I can hunt down barcodes.
I actually had another spot of good luck yesterday, which I neglected to mention.
As Lord and Master here at Blithering Heights, I’ve been concerned, since the snow melted, about my tree cover. Specifically the single large tree in my front yard (I think it’s probably an ash, but I’m not much good with trees. My only other tree is a big fir [or something] in back). The front yard tree drops a lot of small, dry branches, and it didn’t leaf out very well this spring. On top of that, it has a sort of soggy spot on the trunk, where it appears a branch was lopped off long ago.
So I called an arborist last week. His wife answered the phone, took my number, and said he’d get back to me. A diagnostic visit would cost $65. He never called me back.
Yesterday I called another arborist. He listened to my story and told me he could come out and do some tests ($50), but his recommendation was that I should call my City Forester, who’d look at it for free. The downside of that approach would be that if the Forester condemned the tree, there’d be no appeal. But he didn’t think I had a terminal problem, judging from what I’d told him. He also suggested pounding in some tree food spikes, available at any hardware store.
So I picked up some spikes tonight, and I’ll be installing them later this evening. If that doesn’t help, I’ll call the Forester.
I selected this arborist because, although his ad didn’t feature any telltale fish symbols or anything, his choice of business name suggested he was a Christian. He certainly does business as we like to think Christians do (and are too often disappointed).
Maybe civilization isn’t coming to an end right away after all.
It’s what happened to me, back in 1996, when my very first hardcover, HARVEST, was a Literary Guild Main Selection. Back then, I was unknown to booksellers, just a former paperback romance author. But when the Literary Guild chooses your novel as a Main Selection, the publishing world takes notice. Suddenly, you’re not just another new hardcover author; you’re the writer of that month’s Big Book.
So, what’s the down side to being a book club pick? Well, there is the possibility that it may dent your sales in the brick-and-mortar stores, because so many readers are receiving your book in the mail instead. And book club sales aren’t applied to any bestseller lists. A million book club readers may have chosen to receive your book, but it won’t get you on the New York Times list.
Still, the real secret to building a bestselling career is word of mouth. And when hundreds of thousands of book club members are reading your book and talking about it, you can bet that will boost your sales in bookstores as well.
This seems to be my lucky day, in terms of shopping.
I needed a new briefcase for work. The latch broke on my old one. So naturally I made a detour on the way home to my vendor of choice, the local thrift store.
They didn’t have anything remotely like what I needed, unfortunately. But they did have one of those fold-up bookcases that were in vogue a few years back. Since I already have several of those in my basement office, and I needed more, I figured I’d pick it up. $14.95 isn’t a bad price.
When I got to the check-out, the lady rang it up for $11.94. I looked at the tag quizzically, and she said, “Twenty-five percent off on Tuesdays.”
Sometimes lucky is as good as smart.
So I proceeded to the office supply store to buy a briefcase, retail. I intended to get a vinyl one. But hello! The leather ones were on sale at the same price as vinyl. So I’m spiffy in leather now.
I should have gone shopping for something else, just to keep the streak going. But I figured I’d saved all the money I could afford tonight.
Any more good luck might have made me cheerful, and we can’t have that.
Yesterday I panned Andrew Klavan’s The Animal Hour. Today I shall soften the blow to his ego (since I’m sure he follows this blog) by praising his horror novel, The Uncanny.
I kept thinking as I read The Uncanny, “This book is almost perfect. I wish I’d written it.”
I’d like to see it done as a movie, but only if they respected the text. Obsequiously. Because this book is like a fine Swiss watch, all its parts rotating and ratcheting together, making a small, regular “tick-tick” sound (which, by the way, is a recurring theme in the book).
The book begins with a short story called “Black Annie,” a note-perfect pastiche of a Gothic horror tale. The reader then discovers that it is being read aloud by Richard Storm, a Hollywood producer who has made a pile of money with a series of horror flicks, but has moved to England due to a personal setback.
He reads it at a London party, and when he finishes it a woman drops a glass. That brings about Storm’s first sight of Sophia Endering, a lovely, lonely, emotionally damaged heiress and art-gallery owner, with whom he falls immediately in love.
But Sophia has other things on her mind. A man spoke to her one night in the street, imploring her to watch to see who will buy a certain obscure painting at an auction. The man who buys it, he says, is the devil. He can’t do it himself, he says, because he’s going to be murdered. Which prediction comes true.
And Sophia is deeply troubled, because her own father has instructed her to buy the painting for him. “At any price.”
Richard is advised in his assault on Sophia’s defenses by Harper Albright, the proprietress of a magazine devoted to supernatural phenomena. Harper is an interesting character, a resolute skeptic whose life is centered on a kind of affirmation of faith.
As he gets embroiled in Sophia’s perils, Richard finds that his own dreams—even his movies—seem to be entwined with the diabolical plot he uncovers, bit by bit. Other old stories, a ballad, and a memoir punctuate the story, and it all comes together in a climax worthy of Hollywood (as Richard can’t help noticing).
It’s a thriller and it’s a parable (a Christian book, I think, though there are no Christian characters). Women will enjoy the love story; guys will enjoy the adventure and thrills. I loved it.Lars Walker
Had three stops on my way home tonight. Bookstore, grocery store and drugstore.
In the (second-hand) bookstore, the owner had apparently noticed that I’d started buying more books lately, after being kind of scarce for a while. I told him I’d bought a house and cancelled my cable, and so had considerably more time for reading.
“We cancelled our cable about six years ago,” he said. “But then we got it hooked up again so we could get a discount on cable internet access.
“But we don’t have it plugged in.”
I’ve been gushing over the books of Andrew Klavan recently (found one I hadn’t read in the store tonight—hurrah!). However, I feel obligated to warn you about one of them.
I finished The Animal Hour the other day (I won’t link to it). It’s one of Klavan’s earlier books, and I get the impression it was a kind of an experiment.
In my opinion, the experiment didn’t succeed.
It starts out with a great hook. A young woman in
That’s a terrific start. Unfortunately, at least to my taste, the rest of the book doesn’t live up to it.
The mechanics of a great thriller are all there. Suspense mounts, and mysteries abound.
The problem is with an element that’s usually Klavan’s strong suit—the characters. There were very few characters in this book who raised my sympathy much. Most of them were creepy in one or several ways.
Also the gore level was high.
Also Christianity didn’t come off looking very good.
I’d skip this one.
Books, especially fiction, are unfortunately something that many, many people want to write and relatively few people want to read, at least not in commensurate amounts. (See last year’s NEA survey, “Reading at Risk.") People tend to point their finger at the part of the process where the book they’ve written has gotten stuck. If it doesn’t make it to the agent, it’s the agents’ fault; if it doesn’t make it to a publisher, it’s the publishers’ fault; if it doesn’t get reviewed, it’s the press. But, in reality, the whole system is overloaded. Everything that most people dislike about the system really derives from this fact. If people were as enthusiastic about reading (or rather, buying) books as they are about writing them, the industry overall would not be in the poor economic situation it’s in now.Tags: books, fiction, bookselling, writing
O LORD My God, You Are Very GreatThat's beautiful. Read the rest from the English Standard Version here. - phil
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.
He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth. . . .
Today in the library I pulled out a box I’d found yesterday. Inside, in a plastic bag, lay one of the oldest (though not the very oldest) books that I’ve found in our collection. It’s a large book (about a ten inches tall and three inches thick), printed in Norway or Denmark (I’m not entirely sure) in 1840. It’s the second volume of a collection of Luther’s sermons.
The leather binding has very obviously been repaired by hand. Someone carefully tacked thin bands of steel (or tin, I’m uncertain) around the edges, and repaired a split in the spine with an over-and-under stitch in the leather. He (I assume it was a man) took enough pride in his work to affix triangular plates to the front and back covers, with what I assume were his initials embossed in them with a punch.
I imagine him as a farmer, perhaps one who made a side income repairing kettles and coffee pots for his neighbors. Thick, scarred, callused fingers, surprisingly gentle when he worked at delicate jobs. I imagine he was probably a Haugean pietist (my people), because they were the great booklovers among the common Norwegians in those days. This may have been the only book he owned; the great treasure in his home.
Later on I turned to our library inventory project. My assistants did yeoman work with that this year, making far more progress in a few months than I ever expected. Today I finished the books in the main section. Next I’ll hit the reference, which ought to be somewhat easier, since many of the volumes will have been acquisitioned in sequence.
I was at the tail end of the Library of Congress classificatiaon. Ours is a specialized collection, so the books run out rapidly once you’ve finished the “B’s” (the religion section). Today I polished off “R” through “Z” (Science, Medicine, Engineering, Business, many subjects probably entirely unrepresented).
Found an old Dell paperback about UFOs. “Who acquisitioned this?” I wondered. Not even a Christian book on UFOs (I suppose there are such things), but just a common mass market paperback potboiler.
It was an early acquisition. I don’t know who ran the library that far back. Maybe she (I assume it was a she. Could be wrong) had an interest in the subject. Maybe less discretion was employed (or thought necessary) in those days.
And then I thought of the unknown Norwegian who’d repaired the Luther book. What would he have thought of the idea of wondering whether a book was worth having? “Throw a book away?” he’d have thought. “Would you throw away gold and diamonds too?”
Which doesn’t really tell me much, except that times have changed, there has been major Book Inflation, and I’m rich beyond my ancestors’ most covetous dreams.Lars Walker
I’ve been kind of surprised that I haven’t read more about this story.
Dr. Francis Collins, the man who headed up the Human Genome Project, which successfully mapped the human genome for the first time in history, says he sees the orderliness of DNA as evidence of the existence of God.
On closer examination I see two reasons why Christians haven’t been shouting about it more. One is that (contrary to my original understanding of the story) Dr. Collins was not converted to belief through this research. He has been a Christian for a long time.
The second reason is that Collins isn’t a Creationist. He sees no problem believing in Christianity and evolution at the same time.
I won’t argue that point. I hope we can agree that it isn’t necessary to be a Creationist to be saved.
I salute Dr. Collins’ courage in going public with his belief. Although I’ve never been a scientist (or even very good at science) I have an idea his stand hasn’t made him many friends in his profession.
A lot of people are honestly puzzled over the Christian insistence on reconciling our beliefs with scientific fact. “You’ve got science, and you’ve got faith,” they say. “They’re two different things. What does one have to do with the other?”
For some religions (perhaps most, if you count each religion, rather than going by comparative membership statistics) it wouldn’t be a problem. They do, as suggested, separate the physical and the spiritual into two distinct, water-tight compartments. Hindus and Buddhists have no problem there, nor did the ancient Greeks.
But Christianity is different. We have these venerable creeds that proclaim that God “became Man” in Jesus Christ, “was crucified, died, and was buried,” and “rose again on the third day.” The center of our religion has never been Christ’s moral teaching (which was 99% unoriginal, as all true moral systems are), nor in supernatural visions or ecstasies. The center is the belief that God became Man, died, and rose again. In history. In an identifiable place at a (substantially) identifiable date. Christians proclaim that God came into space and time, in a physical body.
Orthodox Christianity permits no disconnect between the physical and the spiritual. The two realms are separate, but they have commerce with one another.
“Be reasonable. Separate them and give it a rest,” the secularist would say. “We’ll all be happier.”
Which translates to, “We’ll divide Reality into two realms. The first realm will be called Fact, and will contain everything that really exists. The second realm will contain everything else. We’ll call that Faith, and you can have it.”
There are two problems with that.
One is that it would be heresy.
The other is that if the early church had embraced it, modern science would never have been invented.Lars Walker
Most Popular Book: The Closers by Michael ConnellyVotes for these awards were cast on the list of favorite books from 2005, which includes Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down, Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of The Mind, Harlan Coben's The Innocent, and Sue Monk Kidd's The Mermaid Chair. - phil
Most Popular Debut: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Most Popular Category Winner: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Salten's writing has not a trace of anthropomorphized cuteness. Bambi's forest is peopled (creatured?) with characters by turns arrogant, venal, gossipy, and engaging—as flawed and varied as the cosmopolitan fauna Salten must have encountered daily in his life in Vienna.Tags: bambi, original
Just finished Jonathan Kellerman’s Over the Edge. The story involves the investigation of a serial killer who targets homosexual prostitutes. I was preparing myself for some preaching about “gay” issues, but was pleasantly surprised.
I was even more pleasantly surprised by the following passage. Here the hero, Dr. Alex Delaware, is talking to a young female student, Jen, one of whose schoolmates has been arrested for the murders. They are discussing the suspect’s apparent psychosis, and the question of whether it might have been induced somehow by a personal enemy.
Jennifer drew her serape around her and talked animatedly.
“At first I approached the issue from a purely cognitive perspective. Could you scramble someone’s mind using purely psychological techniques?”
“Yes, but relentlessly—to the point of severe psychosis. Like what Charles Boyer tried to do to Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight. But that’s movie stuff. In real life it wouldn’t work; stress by itself isn’t enough. I mean, think about the greatest stress a person could go through—the Nazi concentration camps, right?” Her lids lowered and closed for a moment. “My dad spent his adolescence in Auschwitz, and lots of his friends are survivors. I’ve talked to them about it. The trauma affected them for life—anxieties, depression, physical problems—but none of them actually went crazy. Daddy verifies that. The only people he remembers exhibiting psychotic symptoms were those who were psychotic when they entered the camp. Does that square with the data?”
“Yes. And with clinical experience. Over the years I’ve seen thousands of children and families under incredible stress, and I can’t recall a single instance of stress-induced psychosis. Human beings are remarkably resilient.”
She considered that, then said:
“And yet it’s pretty easy to elicit psychoticlike behavior in rats and monkeys with stress. Dr. Gaylord’s shown that. Electrify the floors of their cages, prevent escape, shock them at random intervals, and they just curl up, defecate, and withdraw. Do it long enough, and they never recover.” She stopped and thought for a moment. “Human beings are a lot more complex, aren’t they? As organisms.”
“Yes.” I smiled. “As organisms.”
Lars WalkerTags: Jonathan Kellerman, mystery, psychology, novel