Wednesday, December 30, 2009

So Many Books, So Little Time

yes, yes, absolutely, you're right: lame-o blogger, haven't posted in weeks. Though, between the end of the semester and the whole holiday thing, those were some pretty intense weeks. Lots of things went by the wayside: correspondence (email, FB, LinkedIn, and otherwise), tidyness around the house and office, excessive attention to grooming, etc. Don't get me wrong, I took showers - almost everyday, in fact. Just wasn't rat-tailing the bangs or buffing up the nails. Course I don't do either of those things anyway, so that didn't save me so much time. Let's just say that I kept myself presentable, just not dolled up.

So the blogging suffered. But my family is happy and I'm still employed; what more can you want? Time, of course... mostly for various writing projects. Which is another reason the blogging is on the back burner. This week off  has been an opportunity to woodshed, as the jazz-cats say, out in my garden-shack studio. Helps that it's been raining, too. Easy to stay inside.  It's been raining in my novella, too, come to think of it.

The library project is on hold for now. In an attempt to meet their slashed budget, the Sonoma County Libraries are closed all this week. I know they have little choice, but these are sad times.

On the upside, I've been able to indulge in some fabulous reading: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery (translated from the French), a book that had been recommended to me several times. And with damn good reason. This is some book. I haven't finished quite yet, but almost; I'm at that point where I'm slowing down, so it lasts just a teeny bit longer.  I'm completely impressed with the author's ability to mess around with philosophical ideas and yet keep a compelling tale going. Not only that, but there's been few words I had to look up in the dictionary, like incunabulum. I  love it!  The French can be like that, though. I highly recommend it; has anyone else read it yet?

This is Barbery's second novel but the first to be published here. Her first novel, Gourmet Rhapsody, has subsequently been published on this side of the pond and it's next on my list.

Some of the rest of the list:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett...I want to see what the fuss is about.
Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, 'nuff said.
A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore, ditto
Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro, ditto, ditto.
The Art of Subtext, by Charles Baxter as suggested by Cliff Garstang on his blog Perpetual Folly, a blog to check out if you're of the writing clan.

Prep, The Man of My Dreams and American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. One of the faculty at Napa Writers Conference this summer; I like to be prepared. It's that Inner Scout thing.
Long for This World, and Coast of Good Intentions, by Michael Byers, for the same reason.

Woman's World, by Graham Rawle, a novel written using text (words, phrases) entirely cut out from women's magazines. This is an Xmas gift from my bookseller daughter--she knows her stuff.

Well, that's a good start. Here's some links, if you're interested in other good book lists. Kathleen O'Hanlon
S.Krishna's Books  authors from South Asia and a whole bunch of places not America; includes book reviews and reading challenges. A great place to be introduced to unfamiliar authors.

With that, I think it's time to pack 2009 away and get ready for 2010.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Significant Mention

So today, Significant Objects commented on my comments about them and posted a link to my blog and the story I had created from one of their SO's. How cool is that?  Yep, just about that cool.

No matter, here's the might have to "read more" to find me. Then cruise around and check out their current project, Significant Objects 2, which is raising funds for 826 National, which I realize now, duh, is 826 Valencia gone national.

And then, writer-ettes, find an object of significance and write its story.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Significant Sauce

Sooo ...apropos the previous post about Significant Objects and their usefulness as writing prompts, here's the narrative I wrote using the pictured object as a prompt, which was originally posted here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

She brought it back from Kansas City, because he loved bar-b-que so much. A token of gratitude for being so agreeable about her mandatory sales managers conference scheduled on the weekend of their third anniversary.

"Doesn't hold enough sauce to cover a chicken wing," he growled. He stood up, grabbed his beer, went to watch the news, leaving the jar, barely three inches high and the dour color of baked beans, on the kitchen table where he'd unwrapped it.

Soon, however, he didn't have enough scruples to come home every night or hide the emails or even pretend he was looking for work anymore.

She left for good after coming home early from a horrendous day at work to hear a voicemail from the third girlfriend in as many years, accusing her of being the "other woman," of wrecking his happiness, of holding him back. He was nowhere to be found, maybe out buying more beer, maybe just out. With sudden swift arcs of her arms, she swept everything off the kitchen table, reveling in the clatter and crash of the breakfast plates, coffee cups, empty beer mugs, catalogs, cutlery, a jelly-jar of pens, the chipped cow-shaped butter dish his mother had given them for a wedding gift.

Only the miniscule bar-b-que jar survived, dancing around in the middle of the table, the top off and rolling, the brush-bristles stuck to its underside describing wacky circles. She grabbed it, put the top back on and placed it in the exact middle of the empty table. She stuck this message to it: "This holds just enough sauce to coat your teeny-tiny heart as I roast it over the spluttering flames of your entrails on a spit made from the long bones of your legs."

He boxed the jar up and mailed it to her at her sister's house, a scrawled note rubberbanded around it. "This will hold all the money you'll ever get out of me."

She folded an SASE envelope in half and rolled it around the bristles, stuffing it all back into the jar, and mailed it back: "One check for half your gross worth in the enclosed envelope? Good enough for me. Never seeing you again? Priceless!"

He returned it: "You'll see me, alright - in court."

When the new keys to their old house arrived, she put them in the Bar-B-Que jar, tucked upright around those bristles that had never seen any sauce.

A few months later, she put the hefty check from the sale of the 3BR/2BA, vault ceils, hrdwd floors, gd neighborhood (and nicely appreciated) house into her new bank account.

At least that's the way she'd tell the story at our Single and Sassy meetings.

Lazy Blogger & the Significance in Objects

Yes, it's been weeks, almost a month, something like that, since I've dropped by my own blog. I've become that bane of the bloggerdom, an irregular correspondent. Some of that was due to having a good time: a short trip with friends to the mountains (close to Donner Summit, well before the snow flew), and after that, a longer, more solitary visit to Wellspring (in Philo, CA) for a writer's retreat.

And then some of it's due to the pile-up of work: registration for the Spring 2010 semester started last week and it's been a wang-dang doozie from the get-go. In between was the Thanksgiving holiday, with folks hanging out here, food prep and a day or two of recovery, and so there you have it.

Meanwhile I've been playing around with S.O. (Significant Objects, honey, not Significant Other, this is a family-friendly blog). Significant Objects, as noted in previous post, is a coalition of folks who ran an experiment in the value of desire, as I interpret it.

These folks decided to discover if increasing the significance of an object would increase that object's desirability, as measured by an increase in price on eBay. The set-up was to purchase tchotchkes on eBay for a song or a song-and-a-half, then ask writers to provide a narrative that created and illuminated significance for that particular object. They then reposted the object on eBay, accompanied by the narrative and kicked back to see what happened.

Boy, did it happen. They've completed one such project of 100 objects and you can see the results at the website, as well as checking out the objects, stories, charts and figures.  It definitely shows the power of narrative.

I, of course (you did, too, I bet), thought right away what cool writing prompts these objects would make for a malingering writer, looking for a jump start. But that's the gist of another post.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

6. Sebastopol Library

On one of the first serious rain days of the season a few weeks ago (yes, sorry, it's been that long), I left work and drove out to visit the library in the unique, quirky little town of Sebastopol, a good half-an-hour away. So let's say it's 40, 45 minutes from my home in Petaluma, depending on traffic (isn't all life in the Bay Area dependent on traffic?).  It had been raining all weekend, but that Monday it was wrapping up-more than a drizzle, not quite a shower.

Sebastopol Library
7140 Bodega Ave
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Visit time: Monday evening, 5:30 - 6:30 pm
Architecture/Atmosphere: 3
Seating: 3
Books: 4
Librarians: 4

Two books checked out:
Salt by Mark Kurplansky.
A fascinating look through history at a basic element so necessary for life. Once upon a time, one could pay their bills with salt. And be paid with salt. Thick going in spots, but compelling.
Why I Write The Secret Lives of Authors by Philip Oltermann.....another example of the importance of punctuation. I thought the author was going to tell me why he writes about the secret lives of authors, because, as we well know, writers are equal parts nosy, tight-lipped and show-offs, confident that folks desperately want to hear about why the hell he spent hours in a cramped garret churning out text-docs about the hidden lives of other authors. But the book is far more than that.

The library is just up a small hill from the city center, on one of the main arteries of town, the one that goes right out to the coast, another 45 minutes or so down the road. It's one of those brick-clad buildings from the 70's (1976 to be exact) but with a whole bunch of style. The clean angles and spare lines have a pleasing balance of weight and shape. Anchored on one corner, of course, by a large, very red, apple, the icon of Sebastopol, once the Apple Capitol of Sonoma County.  Although the orchards have dwindled and the last apple processing plant closed shop several years ago, it's still the Apple Capital, at least in the hearts and minds of the populace. They still have the festivals and parades and a million apple icons around town to prove it.

But back to the library.

The entrance is somewhat disguised; walking up the terraced steps past a water garden is an act of faith, but it leads us to a lobby whose door is set back, not quite seen from the street. The lobby is actually a wide hallway, with another entrance on the opposite side; to my left is the Community Room, to the right, two entrances into the library. The hallway is pretty much all brick. In the wall between the two library doors is a long narrow window, shoulder height, resembling  a theater box office window somewhat, only much much longer, that gives a glimpse into the circulation desk area. We can see, through this wide slot, the clutch of library techs assisting patrons, and the patrons themselves on their way in or out.

Okay, so the pictures are kinda blurry, but if you squint your eyes....and maybe stand on your head, it'll start to make sense. I kinda like the ghost-patron in the second photo.

The Community room is hosting a very lively art show of masks, puppets and costuming; a fitting exhibit for pre-Halloween.

After shaking off the dribs and drabs of the drizzle, I spend some time at the art exhibit and then cross the hall to enter the library, dropping several books on the return counter. The place is packed: all study tables are occupied, many are shared, and all computer terminals are in use. Once again, a very large  square with cubby-nooks running along two edges, yet on this rainy day, it feels more cozy than oppressive or crowded.

At one table, a chess game is in progress, at another, math tutoring.  One young girl makes the circuit from the children's area near the front (below, outfitted with two reading couches), to her mom, working at the computers a few aisles away.

I admire the supreme patience of the reference desk librarian who responds to several people trying to get  their uniquely individual laptops to access the inter-schnitzel.  I wander a bit, investigating the shelves.  The collection seems very robust in non-fiction; self-development, crafts and gardening in particular.  It feels like an accurate reflection of the town, known for its self-reliant, back-to-the-land, do-it-your-selfers. Before I leave, I grab a shot of some books, these biographies below; there is something soothing about these full shelves, rich in the lore of poets.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sonoma County Libraries to close for ten days

I better hurry up with my library reviews, look what's happening!

article one

article two

Another sign of the damn times.

Here I am, bumbling along, confident that libraries will always be there - until they are not, that is. I'm still not used to them being closed on Sundays and that happened years ago. (Maybe even a decade ago. Hush!) I'm thinking of the school children without a place to study or do research, of the moms who rely on the library as an inexpensive educational and recreational resource and just plain quiet time. Holy moley!

I understand that the library administration had to make some tough decisions; I see the same tough decisions being made on campus where I work. But I worry about a society that hesitates to fully fund schools and libraries and parks, that when they are needed most, they are least available.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 31st came around again.

Halloween is a one heck of a big deal here. And on a Saturday night, with good weather and an almost-full moon, it's an even bigger deal than usual.  600 + pieces of candy (one per trickster) handed out from our house in an hour and a half; you gotta love it.

Well, actually, we no longer love it; we have become the Scrooges, the Grinches of Halloween. We went to the movies, deputizing my sister and niece to do the Halloween Duty, leaving them to sit on the bottom steps in front of our house, dropping candy one by one into the bags and hats and hands of vampires, ballerinas, princesses, skeletons, pirates, a family of jelly-fish, a Haz Mat container bubbling over and one kid decked out as a kitty-litter box.  Or so they gleefully reported to us.

Our neighbor told me they had about 1400 ghouls & goblins come by. But then they have a tunnel created out of pvc pipe, covered in black plastic sheeting with spooky music, flashing lights and low-hanging cobwebs  inside.  It's a big draw. Up the street, a fella has life-sized mannequins of practically every Disney  movie character that he sets out on his lawn. He's got music too, and dry-ice fog. The crowd gets so thick in front of his house, he sets out traffic cones to keep people out of the street traffic.  Two blocks over, D Street has even more elaborate sets and houses.

Our one piece of Halloween decoration? A string of pumpkin lights I found in the basement.

Walking back from the movies, it was kinda neat to see the families and groups of kids and teens roaming the streets, the houses decked to the nines, lights still flashing in haunted houses and the spooky tunnel next door. Even at 9 p.m., some houses still had lines of trick-or-treaters, though they were short lines.

Neat enough that we'll invite my niece and sister up again next year. And we'll leave them with more candy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another Three-Book Review

I have not kept up with much, have I? The 13 Libraries in 13 Weeks is so obviously becoming 13 Libraries Sometime by the End of the Year.  There are reasons for this. But yes, I have visited another library and will post that review next. First, though, I thought I'd catch up on some of my reading. These three books were checked out of two different libraries and remain books I'm excited about.

The Married Man by Edmund White. In three words: gorgeous, gorgeous prose. The sort of writing you slurp up, way past bedtime, with sentences you want to study to find out how the heck he does it and descriptions you want to roll around in like a cat in catnip.  The story is no slouch either. It pulses along on several continents, delineating intricate relationships among several men - some lovers, some not - and rolling to a complex, revelatory ending. I'll be reading more Edmund White, double-dog guarantee.

Counting Sheep by Paul Martin. Okay, this book just plain scared the bejesus out of me. The dangers of sleep deprivation are real and Martin reveals them all: the brain that falls apart, the body that breaks down, the accidents, the social consequences of drowzy ineptitude. It all seemed so familiar. So instead of trying to squeeze another hour of work on the computer (usually completely unproductive, anyway), I've been snoozing, cat-napping, dreaming, lolling around, catching zzz's, trying to offset the sleep debt that I've been living with (if you could call it that) for decades. Many decades -- more decades than I'd like to admit publicly. Begin with bad genes, add nervous habits and early-onset caffeine consumption, become a teen-ager, go to grad school, have kids, fit in a couple of jobs, well, I was pretty doomed.   What is the drug of choice for moms with kids (especially infants)? Sleep. Hours of sleep. Weeks of sleep. Months of sleep. I would have mainlined sleep if I could when the kids were tiny. And the craving only got stronger with time. Now I've been scared straight: I've got a sleep journal going; I've invested in actual jammies, not just those t-shirts and sweats no longer fit for daytime use; I'm taking NAPS!   I'm developing an eye for the good nap spots, too, much to the dismay of my employer.

The Niagara River by Kay Ryan. I've been a fan of Ryan's terse, lyrical, wry, playful, mind-twisting verse for a very long time. Not quite as long as I've been sleep-deprived, but close enough.  One reviewer noted, and I completely agree, that she is "immaculately off-kilter." She's unique; I can't think of another poet that I'd say she resembled.  But others of you out there, other poets in particular, might be able to point to someone.  So, let me know. And just because, here's one of the poems from this book.
Thanks, Kay.

A pitcher molds
the air in it, dividing
from the air beyond
the air it holds. And
should the pitcher
vanish, something
would take a minute
to escape, a gradually
diminishing integrity,
a thinning pitcherful
of pitcher shape.

Objects of Significance

From Mark Doty, I discovered this site that is a complete treasure-trove for anyone fascinated by the objects we collect and shed on a routine basis.  It's also a trove of writing prompts, for those of us looking for a nudge or two. Or a reminder of the ways in which objects can enhance, develop or even be the story.

Significant Objects

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blackberry Love

No, not the PDA, the real deal, the prickery, stickery, luscious berries... a link to a piece published in Newsbytes at SSU:


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When Damp Begs to Drop Out

We were kept on hold all day yesterday,
(swear it's going to rain any darn second now),
the air thick and lugubrious, dense with potential.

By mid-afternoon, the world had gone silent,
no chittering, twittering, or chipping,
no trills or calls of songbirds.

The tribe of Canada geese, fifty strong,
had plumped down on the lawn,
all facing southwest, bills tucked under wings.

Around four pm, a herd of ravens, had to have been thirty or more,
came galloping across the sky, wheeling and calling, landing on the roof opposite us, slipping over the far edge to hunker under the wide eaves.

The damp in the air begged to drop out.

Then, well after dark, the first hesitant patters of rain, a tickling along the roof. Plinkety plonk plinkety on the tin spark-cover of the
chimney pipe, the tympany of rain.

In the wee-est hours of the night, the storm strolled into the county, commanding all airspace, pummeling trees, filling up creek beds and ditches. Attention!

This morning, the rain rustles and rushes, swatted by wind-gusts against the window. Wind wrestles the taller trees, messes about with the smaller ones, nothing is still.

The birds and animals will sleep the day away in nooks and hollows, under eaves and logs, tucked amongst the fat leaves of the canna lilies.

Only humans will walk about, with clutched umbrellas, impervious foot-gear, tightly sealed coats, blown half-sideways and soaking wet.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The Insurance Industry says the Health-Care Bills in Congress will increase the costs of health care for everyone.

Guess we'll really need the public option* now.

*Or as I like to think of it, an extension of Medicare to help those who can't pay the current (outrageous, imho) health insurance premiums.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

We expect rain

okay, so I didn't get to a library this weekend. I shoulda, woulda, coulda, all that. But the air was heavy and thick, the sky a paltry grey. I opted for being close to the house and battening down the hatches: putting the hammock and umbrellas up into the rafters of the garage, deadheading the sunflowers, refilling the bird feeders, swapping out the curtains (an easier task than putting up storm windows, but the same idea). The first significant storm of the winter is predicted to hit Monday evening/Tuesday morning, the tail end, the left-overs you could say, of a typhoon out in the Pacific and I felt a scurrying need to be ready for it.

So in lieu of a review, I'll post this poem from Kay Ryan's book "The Niagara River."


We expect rain
to animate this
creek: these rocks
to harbor gurgles,
these pebbles to
creep downstream
a little, those leaves
to circle in the
eddy, the stain
and gloss of wet.
The bed is ready
but no rain yet.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Choices, Change & Opting for Options

Okay, I just have to get this off my chest. Then I'll get back to books and libraries.

All these folks having raging fits about the public option provision in the health-care reform bills, like it was some sort off bogeyman hiding under the bed gonna jump out and EAT them...jeepers creepers criminey crow! I don't see them having fits about being forced to take Social Security Retirement Benefits, or Medicare. Aren't these public options? Aren't they stabilizing forces, ensuring coverage and care for all of us in our senior years?

The sheer irrationality of their un-discourse lets us know these critics speak and act from fear. As a therapist-buddy once said, if it doesn't make sense, it's gotta be emotionally-based.

As far as I'm concerned, the "public option" can really be considered an extension of Medicare benefits to those people who either can't afford the current (outrageous) rates or who've been denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions (like pregnancy, allergies, asthma, or just plain being alive) or who've been kicked off plans because they were just too sick for the companies to cover (though I thought that was the point of health-insurance: you pay a little bit every month so you don't have to pay the whopping fees when you were sick or injured-silly me) or any of the other myriad of excuses to take your money and run.

A public option is just that: an option. You don't have to take it. If you're happy with your insurance, like I am with Kaiser, guess what? You don't have to take it!!!! Yipppeee! In a truly functioning capitalist society, there are plenty of choices. In fact, freedom is all about choices, but don't get me started on that or we'll be here until the cows come home and bogeymen are passed out, drooling, behind the curtains.

Of course, the insurance companies are terrified of the pubic option crouching there in the corners, behind the curtains, under the bed just aching to snatch them; it could be the monster that makes them fly right. For a change.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

5. Guerneville Library

Early in the afternoon, on one of the hottest days of the summer, Cheryl, my intrepid library-review companion, and I start the 45-minute drive to Guerneville. Soon we are out of Petaluma and in rolling country, with hayfields, cow pastures, flocks of sheep on either side of the road. A quick dog-leg jog through the quaint town of Sebastopol and we’re out in West County proper. Here the stunning heat is moderated somewhat as we pass through stands of redwoods, bay, oak. Still the AC stays on; a hand on the window confirms that it’s mighty f’ing hot outside, pretty close to a hundred, I'm guessing. (It was.)

We’re heading for the Vacation Wonderland side of Sonoma County, where the Russian River meanders the last few miles to the ocean, and cabins, vacation rentals, and party bars sprout up like mushrooms in a manure patch.  Following 116, we cross the river on a green-painted steel-girder bridge, make a fast left and suddenly we’re smack-dab in downtown Guerneville, probably the largest town out here, certainly the one with the most chi-chi stores.  A quick right turn at the main intersection and in a trice, we’re  upon the library just up the road and across from the fire station. 

Guerneville Library
14107 Armstrong Woods Rd,
Guerneville, CA 95446

Visit time: 2-3 pm, Saturday afternoon.

Books checked out:
The Naked Brain, Richard Restak, M.D. (continuing a theme)
like you'd understand, anyway, Jim Shepard  (all lower case!) (accck!) 

Architecture/atmosphere: 4
Seating: 3
Books: 3 (taking into account its size)
Librarians: 4
Overall:  14

This may be the smallest full-time library in the Sonoma County Library system, but it is no slouch. An appealing structure, clad in a dark green and brown replicating the hues of the surrounding redwoods, it looks to be composed of triangles and circles, with a sharply peaked  roofline and several very large, round, clerestory windows. Below are two views from the parking lot, and below that, the view of the front entrance from the road.

Entering the lobby, the Maggie Boynton Forum room is directly in front of us, with an introduction to Auyervedic Medicine by Dr. Erika Crotta already well underway. Behind the announcement boards, the vaulted ceilings in the library can just be seen. We turn right into the library entrance; I note a counter-stand sign by the drop-off counter that  reminds patrons to wipe items off before returning them, apt testament to the heavy-duty rainy season here. This is flood-central for Sonoma County; Guerneville and its neighbor down-river, Cazadero, record the highest rainfall totals per storm and per year in the county.

Constructed in 1980 and opened in 1981, the library was designed for 18,000 volumes, though dollars to donuts, I’ll bet there are more than that now. With central vaulted ceilings, open beams and plenty of high clerestory light, it feels more spacious than 6,237 sq. ft. would seem to be. For all its compactness, though, this library covers all the bases - fiction, non-fiction (in almost equal numbers, seems to me, which makes my little fictioneer heart go pit-a-pat), periodical shelves, computers for internet and catalog use, three sturdy work tables with sturdy chairs, a row of reading chairs, a distinct children’s area. It’s very quiet, for anything anyone says at one end can be easily heard at the other. With about 10 patrons (men, moms, pre-teens, kids) looking for books, reading at the tables, surfing the interwebs, it feels full and lively.

The librarian is very helpful and kind, but reluctant to approve interior shots. I can see why; virtually no shot except straight up would exclude people. I dearly want to grab a photo of the stained-glass circular window placed high in the apex of one wall, a balanced design of colored rectangles by Robert Moore that reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright, but I refrain.

All in all, a most pleasant experience. For its size, I found the collection quite adequate, with something of interest in every century of Dewey’s decimals and plenty of heavy hitters in the fiction. Here, though, the benefits of the SC Library system stand revealed. If a book isn’t on the shelf here, it is bound to be in some other library in the system. Put in a request and the item will arrive in a matter of days, as long as there aren’t previous requests for it. And if it isn’t in our system, there is a reciprocal agreement with Mendocino Library system. Pretty difficult to stump the system. Though some do try.

I check out my three books, a book on the brain (again!), one on sleep (there are times when it feels like I’m allergic to sleep) and the third, a collection of short stories by Jim Shepard (haven't read much of his work). My companion, pleased with her selection on textiles and color, and I, happy with my three volumes, walk back into the heat of the afternoon, slide into my car blessed with AC, and proceed down-river to a mutual friend’s open-house-warming party. (Though some might wish for a house-cooling party). This is the sort of the afternoon to linger by the river, mulling on the reason for ripples and the direction of currents, as the rest of the county bakes on.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

4. Rincon Valley Library

Set on the eastern edge of Santa Rosa, the Rincon Valley Library serves a wide range of patrons, from the retirees of Oakmont eastward down Hwy 12, to the families, teens and young children of the surrounding residential 'burgs: Rincon Valley, Brush Creek Road, Summerfield, Bennet Valley, Montgomery Village.  The first Santa Rosa Library, the Central Library in downtown SR, was created in 1884; the Rincon Valley Library, fourth of the four city libraries, was built in 1994, a nice solid span of 110 years. (The city libraries joined the county libraries to form the Sonoma County Library system in 1975)

Rincon Valley Library
6959 Montecito Boulevard, Santa Rosa, CA

Time of visit: 6 - 7:30 p.m.

Books Checked Out:
The Married Man, novel, by Edmund White
The Best Day, the Worst Day, memoir, Donald Hall
The Niagara River (poems), Kay Ryan

Book Selection: 3 bookmarks
Seating: 3 bookmarks
Staff : 4 bookmarks
Ambiance/Architecture: 4 bookmarks
Overall: 14 bookmarks

From the street, the building is modest, low-slung and uniformly brick, a welcome design for the hotter side of Santa Rosa. On approach, the entrance, at the far end of short exterior hallway, is cheerful and inviting.

On the left side of the hallway is the glass-door entry to the library proper; to the right, the glass-wall of the community room. As I walk up, a man pushes a cart loaded with amps, speakers and instrument cases up to the door of the community room, which the librarian is opening. A sign board (in pic above)  announces that the 4th Street Jazz Band would soon be playing. This could be fun. The tight tensions of a frazzled day at work begin to uncoil.

Entering the library, I am struck by the cheerful light and pleasant atmosphere, the friendly librarians, the  wide mix of patrons.  Although once again structured as a large (15,000 sq.ft) rectangle, the well-designed, vaulted ceiling grants a sense of spaciousness, even inspiration. Warm wood abounds: fir-laminate beams, oak posts and shelves. It's a comfortable space. Computers, both for patron use and catalog-searches, are scattered about, near the cap-ends of bookshelves, creating a sense of privacy, without being completely isolated.

The children's section (above) seems particularly cheerful, with pint-sized chairs and tables and cozy reading spots. Rows of reading chairs, and sturdy work tables with quite decent chairs, are nicely integrated with the many stacks.  The collection, approximately 50,000 volumes strong, seems both sizable and diverse, both for adults and kids. I mean, two copies of "A Fine Balance," by Rohinton Mistry (right up there as my fav novel of all time)? ... somebody has taste.

As I browse, considering my selections and testing the various chairs for comfort and fit, stray bits of melody (banjo, clarinet, horns) and the rustle of drums seep in from the conference room with the opening and closing of the doors.  I arrived tense and crabby from a busier Monday than usual; I'm now in a softer, gentler mood, the impending headache gone. As I leave, I can see, through the window-wall of the community room, the jazz band in full swing, the audience nodding and swaying in tempo.

I drive home, humming some rag-time tunes, a good stack of books by my side.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reading Update

A brief look at the books I've been checking out of the library.

The Murder Room, P.D. James. I read this with an ongoing sense of deja-vu; turns out I had already seen the BBC production. Which just tells you how behind I am with Adam Dagliesh, the poet and detective protagonist. I mean, jeepers, he has a new love-interest! But the novel unfolded without the usual suspense for, as ready-made scenes rose up out of the murk of my visual memory. And though I didn't remember all the details (Old Timer's Disease has its benefits), I knew the general lay of the land. Still, I read the whole hefty book, just to confirm my vague recollections and because the easily-consumable prose just spooled onward, not letting me off the hook.

Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Susan Farlik. A winner!  A well-structured tale of the author's journey through medical school, science and neurosurgery; I was enraptured. I also learned some neat things. One, I really don't want to be a neurosurgeon. They don't get to be outside too much. But I'll read the stuff this neurosurgeon writes. The whole book was a fascinating, but one point I took away from it: meditation is not all ha ha hee is damn good mental exercise. Farlik (and others) considers Buddhist monks to be the Mental Olympians. So keep at it, folks!

Endpoint, John Updike. I love reading poetry, but I'm not good at sitting down and reading a poetry book cover to cover. I enjoy a poetry book like a box of chocolates, a poem here and there throughout the day or week, to be savored and mulled over, letting its resonances come back to me over time. I've taken this book back, not completely finished but feeling more enlightened about Updike's place in the lit canon (is it just me, or do you always hear a small boom every time that canon is mentioned?) and as a superb writer of all genres.

the life all around me by Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons. Well, I didn't finish this one. I think sequel-itis played a part. I had loved the first book, "Ellen Foster," when I read it, good goddess, was it decades ago? ok, a decade and a half. Spunky Ellen Foster was so fresh and guileless, with a voice rich in self-generated language and metaphor. But I wasn't as enthralled this time, I wasn't able to stay with her. Perhaps it was a lack of narrative tension; Ellen's life seemed to be in the balance in the first book. This time that pressure is off, and though the linguistic charm and intelligence is there, the book didn't get a head of steam up fast enough to make me pick it up time after time. Without that story, the linguistic high-jinks and stylisms seem manufactured. So back it went.

This book, The Best Day, the Worst Day, by Donald Hall, usurped all reading once I started it. It infected my thoughts, still haunts my dreams. Written by one excellent poet about another, the prose is superb, compelling, it pulled me though a story not easy to accept.  This is Hall's tribute, his Taj Mahal, you could say, to his beloved and talented wife, Jane Kenyon, who died 15 short, hectic, medicine-filled months after being diagnosed with a virulent strain of leukemia. Hall is a master at weaving the facts and events of the leukemia year with those of their 20-year marriage, rich in words and love.  Their respect and support for each other is inspirational; in fact the documentary Bill Moyers made about them," A Life Together," shot just before Kenyon's diagnosis, won an Emmy during her final year. By the end of this book, I was in awe by their devotion to each other, the precise attention Hall paid in those months spent "in the country of leukemia," the sheer beauty of his language, the excellent structure of the book.

Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee, Meera Syal. The title is fabulous, but this one went back. Perhaps it suffered for being the one I read after Hall's memoir. I'm sure it is a more than adequate book, it just didn't seem superb. The language was a bit clunky, too aware of itself, though the premise was promising: three young women of Indian-descent coming to terms with their different paths. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let down.

In truth, I haven't read much except poetry since The Best Day, the Worst Day. Though that is about to change.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

No Excuses...

yeah, well, I am behind, way behind on the library-tour 8-ball. But believe it not, I am catching up! Just not right here, right now. I did go to the Sonoma County Book Festival today. I did not fry, as I have in the past. It was one of the cooler days, in the mere 80's.  Took a box of books to the Free Bookmobile, quite a darling, ingenious contraption, though definitely more of a book-camper-half-a-truck.

Still, it fulfills its mission well. As I was chatting with  Glen Weaver,  bookmobiler extraodinaire,  several young people walked away with prized treasures. He put my books out right away (see pic), because "books are flying right off the shelves today," and continued to accept more donations.

The Book Festival, an annual occurrence that takes over the Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa for a day, is a mashup of readers and writers, with plenty of writers reading their work at three or more different venues around the square, as well as the Central Library (more about that later) and plenty of readers listening and grazing to their heart's content on what feeds their soul.

 It is always well attended by people with this attitude:

And on that note, I'll toddle off. To read.

(I, too, fell victim to Book Gluttony and came home with three books, "Birth Day," by Mark Sloan, M.D., "Lucky Break," by Terry Ehret and "The Package Deal," by Izzy Rose.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bookmobiles and Festivals

Bookmobiles - were you enamored of them, too? They combined two of my early-onset passions, books and gypsy caravans. What could be better than driving around in a self-contained vehicle, on my own, delivering books (nothing much better than books, then, except maybe swimming) to various remote rural or even mountain locations? Spotted with eidelweiss and brown, velvety-eyed cows? Hmm, now how did Heidi sneak in there?

But I don't remember a bookmobile coming to our door, or even actually being in one, like some of you lucky people out there. In all our moves, there was always always a library close by, even if only a one-room Carnegie Library built of stone, like this one in Barneveld, NY (photo courtesy of my brother). Pretty darn cute, eh?

Still, I had this image: an old 50's van, probably a modified milk-delivery truck, stuffed with books, me driving, with pigtails and a stack of maps. Careening around a corner, Pippi Longstocking-style, maps flying, books bouncing. Bookmobiling, that was the life for me!

And I find that others in the blogo-schnitzle have similar feelings. Bibliophemera has a great post about bookmobiles, with cool photos, too. There's a following out there, folks!

So, in this Library Review  & Tour Project, I looked forward to visiting, being in and writing about a bookmobile. I presumed there would be one, considering Sonoma County's size and the still rural, even somewhat wild, nature of its hinterlands. But no. Counties to the north and south of us, Mendocino and Marin, have them, but Sonoma County ceased its bookmobile action in 1996. Doubtful that it will return.

However! There is a new bookmobile in town,  The Sonoma County Free Bookmobile, that collects donated books and delivers them at no charge, to rural families, kids and isolated seniors. How cool is that? Check out their page for photos of bookmobiles and even BiblioBurros. And what better life could you give your extra books? (and I know you have extra books!)  The Free Bookmobile will be at the Sonoma County Book Festival next Saturday (Sept 19th) in Downtown Santa Rosa, another fabulous book-related event. So clean up your bookshelves, folks, drop by the Free Bookmobile, then cruise the festival with its wonderful roster of readers, writer-events, poets, fictioneers, booksellers.

And just think--now that you have some extra space on your shelves, you'll have room for all the bookly treasures you're sure to find.

Sonoma County Book Festival

Sonoma County Book Mobile article

Sonoma County Free Bookmobile

Saturday, September 12, 2009

6 Sentences Vol 2: A Wink and a Train Ride

Every so often, we'll get those low-down, why-the-heck-am-I-a-writer-anyway blues. We'll think of passing on our many collections of pens (some working, some not) and pencils (some still with erasers, some worn down to mere nubs) to a more enthusiastic, newbie writer, one whose pristine forehead hasn't yet been bloodied by the stubborn Publication Wall. We'll consider tossing all our thumbdrives in a drawer, hanging up the keyboard, burning all our journals and recycling our mss, received critiques, inspirational printouts and how-to handouts by using their backsides for lists, recipes, querulous letters to the Sea Hags in Accounting,Billing & Payables. We'd never ever ever run out of paper, for sure.

And then something happens. Weird things, like a certain color of blue or the interaction of a mother and daughter at the fair or seeing suddenly how a story is structured. Friday it was this: An email arrived with this link in it. An announcement, on You Tube, that I'm one of the authors in Vol 2 of 6 Sentences. ("A Wink and a Train Ride" appears on pg 122, I'm told) Holey moley mackerel pie!

Marching Orders

I knew it would happen, but I didn't think it would happen this soon.

Unlike San Diego, the Sonoma County libraries are all closed on Sundays. So there is no way I could do a library-a-day project the way my friend Michelle did, even if my work-schedule didn't interfere. Work limits my library visits to weekends, the library schedule limits the weekend visits to just Saturday. I don't know about you, but sometimes Saturdays get more than a little crowded.

Which is what happened today. Tai Chi, chores, a lovely welcome-home party at Heart's Desire Beach; I had my marching orders for the day... and I was unable to slip in even a brief side-trip to a library, as I had hoped. So, Monday after work. I swear.

Sunday's not going to be a slow day either. I'm planing to join the Health Care March in San Francisco (side benefit: taking the ferry there and back). I feel so frustrated; I'm not a town-hall screamer or a Opinion columnist. But I have to do something to counter-act the paranoia and lies coming from the anti-health care bunch. It's so Orwellian; they repeat their lies and mis-information so often that people come to believe them. We have to keep the word out, we have to keep saying the truth so often and so loud that people believe us too.

So tomorrow, I'll be a foot-soldier in Obama's Army.

Friday, September 11, 2009

On 9/11

Found this stunning poem, Cello, by Dorianne Laux, on Joshua Robbin's blog Little Epic Against Oblivion and had to share, because it is. What it is.


When a dead tree falls in a forest
it often falls into the arms
of a living tree. The dead,
thus embraced, rasp in wind,
slowly carving a niche
in the living branch, shearing away
the rough outer flesh, revealing
the pinkish, yellowish, feverish
inner bark. For years
the dead tree rubs its fallen body
against the living, building
its dead music, making its raw mark,
wearing the tough bough down
as it moans and bends, the deep
rosined bow sound of the living
shouldering the dead.

September 10, 2002

Dorianne Laux
from Facts About the Moon

Click here, support a poet!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

3. Sonoma Valley Library

Sonoma County is a pretty hefty county. Now that I've reviewed the two libraries closest to me, it's time to start trekking, with each library taking me further and further afield.

Sonoma Valley Regional Library
755 W. Napa Street
Sonoma, CA 9

Books checked out:
"Last Night, " James Salter
"Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee," Meera Syal
"Another Day in the Frontal Lobe (a brain surgeon exposes life on the inside)," Katrina Firlik

Book Selection: 2 bookmarks
Seating: 1 bookmark
Staff : 4 bookmarks
Ambiance/Architecture: 1 bookmark
Overall: 8 bookmarks

The Sonoma Valley Regional Library is in the town of Sonoma which GoogleMaps said was 29 minutes away from my house. Having driven to the town countless times, I thought that was just wrong, it had to be less than 20 minutes. I am notoriously time-delusional, though, so I decided to time it. I might have beat the time, if I'd remembered to write down street number. I did remember the street (yay, score one for the brain!), so I figured I'd drive into the quaint old-town plaza of Sonoma where W. Napa starts and cruise out on it -- I'd have to pass it, right? Just when it seemed I had gone too far, and the questions began: did I miss it? did I have the street wrong after all? --there it was. 31 minutes. Dang!

Definitley an unprepossessing exterior to this library, and the interior was even less pre-possessing. Outside, all brick and sleek lines, a low-slung rectangle with a peaked roof and privacy walls; inside, one very, very large rectangle. In fact, the library was basically one huge room, with the stacks themselves creating u-shaped cubicles, each with a work-table and four padded chairs. And these were the comfortable chairs. The children's library was a sizeable chunk of the floor space, well over to one side, defined mostly by lower shelves and smaller reading chairs.

It was not a charming environment; it reminded me of a high school library or a store in a mall: everything was on display and all activity could be viewed from the centrally placed circulation desk. No hiding here. It may be a very useful library, as most libraries are, but it wasn't a library I'd want to linger in unless I was waiting for a bus or for a parent to pick me up.

(I forgot about the groovy rug!)

For all of that, the library was well-populated. The computer terminals, placed right in the middle of the library room, were all in use, and almost all the work tables had someone reading or studying or working on a project. One such project involved a plethora of sticky-notes all over the pages of a notebook.

When I asked one of the very nice librarians when the branch was built, she said, with an apologetic grimace, "maybe about 30-ish years ago, in the 70's, which is why it looks the way it does. " So I guess it's no secret. It seems to be a somewhat neglected second-cousin of the system, surprising when you consider the high chi-chi, toney reputation of the town of Sonoma. I would imagine it's the next in line for renovation, but then I haven't seen many of the others yet.

I had hoped this library would be downtown Sonoma, necessitating a visit to the Sonoma Jack Cheese store, or the Basque Boulangerie, because as much as the county is considered Wine Country these days, the town of Sonoma is all about the food. Yumminess is to be found on every street and on every side of the plaza. Although the library was well away from downtown, I noticed that across the street was the Artisan Bakery, so all was not lost. Before I went home, hopped over for a loaf of tomato-basil bread and a Pear Ginger Muffin, very yum. Score Five Yummie Marks right there.

It wasn't so much that I got lost going home, but, because I believe in back roads and short cuts, I decided to "follow my nose," home, you know, just head back the way I figured I should go, hoping to cut some time off that darn Googly Map time. Oh,my the games we play with ourselves. I didn't get lost, really, just ran a stop sign and had to make a swift u-turn to get back on track. So I barely shaved three minutes off the time on the way back.

I know I promised to cut back on my book selestion, but...well, I hadn't read any of Salter's work, though I've heard so much about him, and it's a really, really thin book of short stories. And "Life Isn't all Ha Ha Hee Hee"...who could resist?

As for "Another Day in the Frontal Lobe," seemed like it was part of a theme. Here's the opening prapgraph, which convinced me:
"The brain is soft. Some of my colleagues compare it to toothpaste, but that's not quite right. It doesn't spread like toothpaste. It doesn't adhere to your fingers in the way toothpaste does. Tofu-the soft variety, if you know tofu-maybe a more accurate comparison. If you cut out a sizable cube of the brain it retains its shape, more or less, although not quite as well as tofu. Damaged or swollen brain, on the other hand, is softer. Under pressure, it will readily express itself out of a hole in the skull made by a high-speed surgical drill. Perhaps the toothpaste analogy is more appropriate in under these circumstances."

So, if you'll excuse me, I have some fascinating reading to get to.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mid-week review on library books

Of the three books that I checked out from the Petaluma Library, I've read two, having learned from Susan Taylor Chehak that starting a book doesn't require finishing it. So many fabulous books & so little time... what's the point in completing a book that doesn't grab you by the short hairs?

Didn't finish "the kind i'm likely to get" by ken foster (all lower caps from him). It was written well enough, but the characters - meh. Although others, like Lucy Grealy, Luc Sante, Chuck Palahniuk disagreed. Go figure. I liked the first story, "keep it from the flame," but after that my attention began wandering.

I did finish "Brain Wider Than the Sky," because brain function fascinates me. (So why, you ask, didn't I become a brain surgeon? shaky hands, a wandering mind -see above- not so good with the gore and gobbits of brain-gunk, just a few of the reasons). The author, Andrew Levy, driven by his own migraine experiences (including a 4-month stint of daily hide-in-the-dark, sick-until-puking headaches), researches the historical record of megrims, as they were once called, reviews cures from the past (shudder), covers the current neurological state of affair and introduces us to some well-known migrainuers, which sounds like a fabulous, groovy club, but isn't. An enlightening read. I realized that those god-awful, eye-crossing thunder-headaches that I'd get on the East Coast were in fact migraines brought on by low air-pressure and humidity. Not the worst migraines on the planet, as I learned from the book, but enough that I feared and hated them and moved to West Coast to get away from them. Among other enticements.

Haven't yet cracked "the life all around me by Ellen Foster" as written by Kay Gibbons; it's a treat reserved for this three-day weekend, with at least one afternoon spent as Sandy Reader and Sandcastle Voyeur out at Drakes Bay.

This past weekend was another retreat unexpected but glorious,to the Research Station, which is one reason why I finished not only that migraine book from the first batch of books, but also made headway into the second batch, finishing "Plum Lucky," dipping deeply into Updike's poems and starting P.D. James' book, "The Murder Room."

I enjoyed "Plum Lucky." It was a fun read: quirky, fast, funny, perfect for the hot-as-the-dickens afternoon and evening on a hilltop amongst oaks, deers and ticks. Lots of lounging around, beating the heat by never being vertical for more than a few minutes. I'd definitely read more Evanovich; there's a lot of craft and skill in getting a book to move this smoothly, engagingly and quick.

But I'm going to have to cut back on my book selections, if I'm going to read something from every library I visit. I'm lagging behind and I've only just started the Sonoma County Library Tour.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

2: Rohnert Park Library

Rohnert Park-Cotati Regional Library 6250 Lynne Conde Way, Rohnert Park, California, 94928

Time of Visit: Friday afternoon/evening: 5 - 6 pm
Books Checked out:
"Endpoint," John Updike
"Plum Lucky," Janet Evanovich
"The Murder Room," P.D. James


Book Selection: 2 bookmarks
Seating: 4 bookmarks
Staff : 4 bookmarks
Ambiance/Architecture: 4 bookmarks
Overall: 14 bookamrks

Opened at this location in 2003 and very modern, (like, actually new, as my friend Michelle will be pleased to know) this library has pleasing cream-colored stucco exterior walls, lots of tinted glass, some small trees and a bright, clean approach. It is a part of a complex of civic buildings for Rohnert Park, that include the police and fire station. The three buildings share a large courtyard that includes a maze, a fountain (not running in this season of drought) and some very interesting sculptures. One is an Alphabet Wall, another a History of Written Language wall, both created by artist/designer Martha Crawford. The language wall has many concentric arches centered around a large Rabbit Hole, each ring representing an advancement in writing. Along the plaza leading to these walls are two lines of delightful Alice-in-Wonderland-like concrete stacks of extra large books, 3 or 4 “books” high that could function as seats, or bases in a game of tag, or whatever. The A-i-W theme is carried further with quotations from the classic embedded in the walkway of the maze nearby.

It’s a beautifully designed, intriguing space, but hotter than a pistol on this exceptionally muggy, superhot August afternoon (earthquake weather, says Alice). Walking across the plaza to the front doors, I think my brains, already scrambled from the week, are about to be cooked into some sort of bad omelette. In fact, I feel so roasted that I neglect to get a shot of the entrance, so I'll have to go by and grab it to post later.

The air-conditioning is welcome relief when I step into the lobby, the doors gliding shut behind me. To my right is a conference room with an ongoing photography show, with some excellent work and some not-so; to my left, an entire wall devoted to community announcements and bulletins and flyers of a civic nature. It’s nice to see adequate space devoted to the diverse activities of a community: farmers' markets, rights organizations, poetry slams, classes, etc.

The interior design matches the exceptional landscaping. Walking in is like entering a sky boat, with light-filled rooms that feel airy, spacious. A skylight runs the entire length of the main reading room, just above the truss-framework of the high ceiling. Soffits at the top of the walls and light fixtures running between the stacks leave no dark corners. Much of the exterior walls are windows; the light walls help to bounce light around.

There are many tables with comfortably wide, sturdy chairs and plenty of softer, easy-type chairs and study carrels, such as you'd see in a school library.

Don't you just want to sit down and set up your study-shop?

One wall of windows looks out on a garden, representing, the brochure said, the groves of learning from the days of Socrates.

This is a library easy to love, even though the collections seem thin and the fiction section even thinner. It's comfortable and inviting, even inspiring. On this Friday evening, the place is almost full with a wide range of people and activities: moms, kids, families, teens, adults, oldsters. Volunteers shelving ands assisting at the circ desk. Some math tutoring. A long bank of computers, all in use. Also wireless, though one poor fellow couldn’t get his wireless card to work and wanted to know if he could “borrow” one. That was a polite "no" from the Reference Librarian, who no doubt wanted nothing to do with the innards of this guy's laptop.

The Children’s library is particularly well-designed, with kid-sized furniture, kid-sized shelving, and lots of space for reading or quiet play with building sets (Duplos and the like). The Children's library is easily half the size of the main reading room and may account for a sizable chunk of the library's volumes.

Fiction is definably a low-count collection, though. I browse through the Mysteries section; the heavy hitters were all represented: PD James, Elizabeth George, etc. I pick up a Janet Evanovitch book, a “Between the Numbers" novel, because my friend ND conducted a craft study on her work and was suitably impressed. Also the latest Updike book, “Endpoint,” a collection of posthumously published poems because I haven't read much of his poetry (just what I find in the New Yorker, sad to say) and a PD James, for old times sake; not her newest but the next back, "The Murder Room."

The coolest part of the experience? Using the Ready, Check, Go! system similar to the self-checkouts in some grocery stores. When I get in line at 5:55 ("The library will be closing in five minutes"--accck!), one of the volunteers motions me forward, saying that one of the machines was free. Ok?! So I walk over and she guides me through it. Put the books on the black apron or landing pad or whatever you want to call it, either stacked up or spread out, it didn't matter she says. Then the card swipe. Wow! Then my PIN...oh, shit, I can't remember what I chose last week when I got my new card! and I know I didn't write it down; I'd just selected something random, not thinking I'd ever have to really use it (yeah, I'm a dummy). But I remember using two repeating numbers, thinking that's a dumb thing to do (detecting a pattern are we?) I punch in my two fav numbers, but noooooooo! Now there's a line forming behind me, lights are being clicked off; I make a wild stab at it, using a phone number as a wild guess, and yowzers! it works! There's some computing and dinging and screens changing and then it spits out a receipt that not only had the new books printed on it with due dates, but the previous three books too, with their due-dates. I'll never be late again, I joke to the volunteer, a bit ruefully. I kind of like being a Library least I know my fines are going to a worthy cause.

But as we all know, no matter the system, Library Felons have a high rate of recidivism. So until next week, happy reading!