Archive for January, 2007
It’s snowing out. Even though I know that it’s only a snow shower and won’t last, right now the flakes are falling thick and fast giving the impression that it’s a much more significant snowfall than it really is. It puts me in mind of the heavier snowfalls we got in the northeast, where it would look like this all day.
The best part about that sort of snowfall is the peace and contentment you can get from being inside watching it fall. If it was coming down in the liquid equivalent the feeling would be much more depressing. A heavy rainfall pounds on the roof and the windows, makes everything dark and dank, and generally makes you feel like you’re trying to get away from something by staying indoors. A heavy snowfall on the other hand lightens everything and is almost silent. In fact, one of the best things about snowfall is the light sound it does make. A soft rushing sound that you can really only hear when everything around you is still.
And everything is still in snowfall. The softness of the flakes absorbs all the sound, and even in the middle of the woods what was already quiet becomes even more so. You can feel yourself get completely wrapped up in the silence; but rather than a cold, isolating silence like you might get in a cave or an empty room, the silence of snow completely envelops you and makes you feel surrounded by something soft.
Many of my favorite memories of growing up involve snowfall and winter. I remember sitting for hours in front of a big picture window reading an entire book while watching the snow fall outside. I remember cross-country skiing through lightly falling snow to a cabin in the woods. I remember skating over a frozen lake as the snow wafted across the ice in front of me in little wisps, and the only sound was my skates and the occasional boom of the entire sheet of ice shifting along the shore.
February has been the worst month for me for many years now. It seems like I get into my worst doldrums as soon as February rolls around, and it doesn’t really lift until we begin to see some warmth and sunlight again in March. But I don’t remember this happening when I was growing up. I remember making it through the extended winters in New Hampshire where the snow would often last through until May without this sort of depression coming over me.
I finally realized a few years ago that it’s Ohio that does this to me. In Ohio, it essentially clouds over around Election Day and doesn’t clear until St. Patrick’s. On top of that, we rarely get any sort of significant snowfall here. The last big snowfall I remember here was a few years back and only amounted to about 6-8 inches. Instead we get a cold drizzle that never seems to end. It’s a huge disincentive for me to get on my bike, and riding is one of the few things that can successfully break me out of a depression.
So the snow falls outside and I’m reminded ever so slightly of the closeness of a heavy snowfall, or the blazing blue skies that come with the Canadian high pressure right behind it. I remember the joy of schussing down freshly packed powder through pine and maple forests. I remember splitting logs to keep a wood stove burning through the night as the snow swirls around outside. I remember walking through a foot of snow across a field and falling on my back to gaze up at the stars whose light is reflected off the bed of white all around me, feeling that I belonged to something much bigger than myself.
One of the perks of working in a library is that you get to see all the oddball crap that somehow manages to get through agents, editors, and publishers and still wind up on paper. This can range from the fairly mundane Ann Coulteresque baseless rants (like the gem I saw on the shelves the other day for the first time: “Women who make the world worse : and how their radical feminist assault is ruining our families, military, schools and sports.” Now there’s a page-turner), to the outright freaky (“Children of the matrix : how an interdimensional race has controlled the world for thousands of years– and still does.” I’m not making this up. ISBN 9780953881017).
The fact that this stuff gets published means there must be some sort of market for it, and the fact that the library owns it means either that people requested the title be added or one of our selectors noticed that it was getting sufficient notice in the press or the industry to warrant adding the book to the collection. I’m not sure who among our many customers reads this stuff, and I assure you that while we have our share of nutjobs in and out on a regular basis, I haven’t seen anyone capable of sitting down and reading a book who looks like they’re sufficiently off their rocker to believe this stuff. Which of course makes it even scarier: you can’t tell who they are!
Yesterday a fairly new book came across the desk that caught my eye: “Debunking 9/11 Myths” from the editors of Popular Mechanics. Intrigued, I read the blurb on the back.
Now, I’ve always known that there were some conspiracy theories around 9/11, but I never thought they got much beyond the sort of Pearl-Harbor-type theories: the idea that FDR knew that the Japanese were going to attack and so let it happen so that the U.S. would enter the war, so similarly that Bush knew that Al Qaeda was going to attack but let it happen so that he could let his buddies at Halliburton take over Iraq. The inevitable problem with these sorts of theories is that the government is so bloody incompetent and leaky that if they were the case, someone somewhere would have spilled his guts about it by now. I mean hell, they couldn’t even keep a hotel room break-in secret!
Which is why the level to which the 9/11 conspiracies has risen completely blows my mind. Apparently, there are people out there who sincerely believe (from the back cover):
- American air defenses were ordered to “stand down” on 9/11
- The south tower of the World Trade Center was struck by a military aircraft, not a commercial jet
- The World Trade Center buildings were professionally demolished
- A missile or miltary jet– not a Boeing 757– struck the Pentagon
- Flight 93 was hit by an air-to-air missile before it crashed in Pennsylvania
I started reading it right away, and it’s actually very enjoyable to watch scientists dealing with this sort of insanity in a thoroughly rational way while clearly trying not to spit their coffee across the room when they hear these things.
But the level some of these theories go to! That last one for example. Apparently the first three flights were forced to land at Harrisburg International Airport where the passengers and crew were all transferred to flight 93. The government then flew drone aircraft into the WTC and the Pentagon, and shot down flight 93 with an A10 Thunderbolt painted white to disguise its military origins (have you seen an A10? They don’t exactly look civilian…). The remaining three planes were then dumped over the Atlantic.
I guess that these sorts of things come from the human desire to impose order on a highly disorderly world. In some sort of twisted way, it’s more comforting to think that a vast and hidden conspiracy is responsible for something this awful rather than a mere 19 men who figured out where our weak spots were. Personally, I have always taken comfort in other parts of that day: F-16s flying close cover over D.C. after the Pentagon attack, firemen racing up flights of stairs on the off chance they might get one more person out, and a small group of people on a plane who just weren’t going to take it sitting down.
This evening as I was driving home listening to the news a segment called the “Evening market report” came on. This features a woman from a local brokerage calling in a recording of how the market went during the day. It covers the indexes and any significant action on big ticket items. As usual, I basically tuned this segment out. I have only a passing interest in how the market fares, since the closest I come to playing the market is deciding to put 30% of my retirement money into OPERSs “aggressive” portfolio (Oooo. Life on the edge, I know).
As she rattled off her list of events, she happened to mention that Apple’s stock is up. No suprise there, right? The only odd thing was that she introduced it as “Apple, maker of the Ipod music player.”
My first reaction to this was “anyone who doesn’t know that Apple makes Ipods has been living in a shepherd’s shack on the South Island of New Zealand for the last three years.”
But then something a little more disturbing dawned on me. Presumably, the only people who would care about what this woman has to say are investors. If an investor has decided to buy stock in a company, presumably s/he has researched the company at least minimally in order to decide if it’s a good investment. If a person who has sunk money into Apple stock doesn’t know that they make Ipods, why did they invest in Apple?
It all put me in mind of the story about Joe Kennedy in 1928. Legend has it that Joe sold out all his stock in 1928 after his shoeshine boy started giving him stock tips. He figured that if novices like the shoeshine boy were in the market, it was probably overloaded and ready to collapse.
Seriously folks, before you spend your money on something, at least do us all the favor of figuring out what you’re doing? That’s all I’m saying.
I’ve had a run of extraordinary good luck with my reading selections lately.
I suppose I should start by explaining that my method for deciding what books to read is not at all predictable. I used to read heavily in a few specific genres: police procedural mysteries, English “cozy” mysteries, adventure/espionage thrillers, and Sci Fi/Fantasy. At some point in time I began to lose patience with most of the material written in those genres. All that is left of my desire to read genres is some mysteries (which I suppose could be lumped into some sort of English mystery category—think anything the BBC would turn into a series), hard Sci Fi (if it’s not based in scientific theory I don’t want to read it), and very well written fantasy (but only occasionally and it had better have a different slant to it than most).
Given that all my tried and true sources had begun to bore me, I started just looking for anything new. I suppose this is a good thing for a librarian (although it would be better if I read more books than I do), but what’s surprising is how varied the results can be. Basically I look for new things coming in that pique my interest in some way or other. Interesting characters, new takes on old themes, meaningful insights into the human condition. In other words, books that tend to get lumped into the very broad category of “literate fiction.”
The unfortunate side effect of this is that I wind up reading a lot of crap. Apparently there are still a lot of people out there trying to write the Great American Novel, and the results are pretty disappointing. If I had to guess at what makes the difference between a decent book that I have to slog through and a great book that I want to tell other people about, it is whether or not the author was trying to write the book or if the book came to be. Anyone out there who’s tried writing knows that the former is death, the latter is brilliance.
Which is why it’s so odd that I’ve had three in a row that have hit the ball out of the park. They really have nothing to do with each other, except that I’ve read them and liked them all. So, without further ado, I humbly present to you my latest selections.
Brothers by Da Chen.
I have been fascinated for a very long time by Asia generally and China specifically. I’ve done a lot of reading about Chinese history, especially Chinese history from the end of the empire to today. Oddly enough, I have learned more about the Chinese people and culture from reading novels by Chinese authors than I have from any work of non-fiction. This book fits into this trend perfectly. Brothers tells the story of two half-brothers, fathered by the favorite son of two of the most powerful families in Maoist China. Each brother has the intelligence and the drive to become great and do great things. However, over the course of the Vietnam war, the Cultural Revolution, the death of Mao, and the opening of communist China to the west, the brother who seemed to be the favorite son finds himself brought low, while the bastard son is elevated to the highest levels. Not only does this story illustrate so much of what is wrong with China and so much of what could be right, it also shows how people with the best motives can find themselves in a position of doing horrible things.
Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle
I’ve always liked T.C. Boyle’s style of writing, and his topics are always new and interesting. In Talk Talk he takes on the specter of identity theft, but approaches it with the insight, novelty, and humor that marks all his books. Dana Halter is a happy and successful teacher with a nice boyfriend and a good job. She also happens to be deaf, while her boyfriend is hearing. One day during a routine traffic stop she finds herself arrested and taken to jail for things she didn’t do. It eventually becomes clear that her identity has been stolen. When she finds that the police and the government are unwilling or unable to do anything about it, she resolves to go after the man responsible herself. Her boyfriend decides to put his job and his life on the line to go with her. Boyle then introduces us to the thief: a man with his own life, needs, and reasons for doing what he does. The ensuing cat and mouse game between the two turns into a cross-country chase that will wholly engage you in the lives of the characters, as well as what it means to be who we are, and how we all communicate with each other. Boyle’s descriptions of the events in this story are so compelling that you will find your heart racing and your nerves on edge with the difficulty of the situations the characters find themselves in.
The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens
My sister-in-law’s husband received this as a gift for Christmas, and when I read the fly-leaf I couldn’t figure out how it had slipped beneath my radar. This is exactly the sort of book I look for. Set during the great potato famine in Ireland, the story follows a boy named Fergus as he watches the simple world he knew of mountains, fields, and cattle in County Clare crumble and die in the face of the terrible blight. After his entire family dies and he is ejected from the land of the farmer whose tenants his family was, he gradually makes his way through a series of trials from the mountains of western Ireland to Dublin to Liverpool and eventually on to America. The story is expertly paced, with the adventures moving quickly enough to keep you turning the pages, but not so quickly that you can’t appreciate the trials he goes through and relish in his triumphs, however small they may be. A great telling of a horrible tale, and another great story about the ability of the human soul to overcome anything.
I kinda ran my bike computer through the wash in March, and while I’m pretty sure there were about 250 miles on it at that point, there might have been more. The actual mileage from March through December though was 1010. It took me 56 hours and 26 minutes to ride that distance, which makes an average speed of 17.9 mph.
So you probably think that’s pretty good, huh? Well, to me it’s another New Year’s resolution down the drain. In 2005 I rode 1444 miles at about the same average speed, and I resolved to ride further, faster in 2006. So much for that one.
I guess in my defense I could point out that I took two more weeks off work during the summer than I usually do, and since most of my riding is the 16 miles round-trip to work, I lost 160 miles during peak weather right there. Plus at the end of the year I was sick during some of the last good riding weather in November and December.
This is the point where the hardcore cyclists say “Then break out your cold-weather gear, you wimp, and get on that bike!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m working on it. I’ve got some new tights on order that should keep me warmer than my current pair. And I have been feeling a little cooped up and lazy lately. I’ll try to get out there soon.
But what really blows my mind is how little any of this is in the grand scheme of cycling. Take the Tour de France. It is kinda the World Series of cycling, and it is longer and more difficult than any other race, but just consider this.
In the 2006 Tour, Floyd Landis rode 2272.4 miles in 89 hours, 39 minutes, and 30 seconds at an average speed of 25.4 mph. That’s in 21 days of cycling.
Almost makes you tired just looking at it, doesn’t it?
I’ll spare you all my usual rant about how Floyd was framed and just say this: his comeback in stage 17 was the most brilliant piece of athleticism I’ve ever seen, testosterone or no.
I can’t wait for July.
New Year’s resolutions are stupid. Let me get that out of the way right away. I don’t like them, I almost never make them, and when I have I’ve failed miserably. Okay, so maybe I’m avoiding the chance of failure by not making New Year’s resolutions. What are you, my shrink?
Well, I’ve made one. I’m going to post to this thing at least once a week. Not only do I really need to get back to writing (instead of playing Runescape all day), but now maybe people will actually know what’s going on in my life for a change.
Not that anyone cares what’s going on in my life other than the handful of people I’m going to give this address to. If you have managed to stumble onto this site blind, I have to wonder what you’re doing here. Maybe like Michael Moore you think that Librarians are going to take over the world and want an inside track on the state of the revolution (it’s going slowly, sorry). Or maybe you’re just bored and looking for Charles Manson or Son of Sam trivia and mis-spelled “psycho.”
But after all, Time magazine said that I was person of the year for 2006 because of all my online activities. Maybe I’d better start living up to the title and get busy contributing to the flood of useless information that no one seems to be able to figure out how to organize other than Google. (Now there’s where the revolution is coming from. Or maybe a coup d’etat? “The Microsoft is dead, long live the Google!” as Won’t get fooled again plays in the background.)
I suppose I could take that tangent even further and go off about how someone needs figure out how to organize all this stuff without letting one entity control it all, and hello! the librarians are sitting here waiting! But I’ll wait for some time when a news story more recent than Time’s person of the year comes along and gets me worked up again. Betcha can’t wait, huh? Ah well. At least I enjoy the sound of my own voice.
In the meantime, the insanity that is the holidays has settled down and we’re back to some semblance of normalcy, albeit with a tree shedding needles in the middle of our living room. So it’s time to try something new. Let’s see where this leads to, hmm?