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.