Archive for 2011

50 Movie Box Office Gold, Disc 5

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Christabel, 1988, color (TV). Adrian Shergold (dir.), Elizabeth Hurley, Stephen Dillane, Geoffrey Palmer, Ann Bell, Nigel Le Vaillant. 2:27.

When I look at the running time (nearly 2.5 hours), the date (1988) and the cast (Elizabeth Hurley), I immediately think “Why is this on a Mill Creek Entertainment set?” The answer—or a possible answer—comes at the end of the movie.

Christabel is an upper-class British woman who marries a German lawyer she met a Cambridge, to the considerable dismay of her father. Did I mention that this starts in 1934? The two move to Germany, start a family, and by 1938—well, you probably know what was happening in the late 1930s in Germany. At her husband’s request, she moves back to England for a while, but that doesn’t stick. A fair amount of middling intrigue later, it’s mid-1944—and he’s been arrested after a plot to kill Hitler fails. She’s off in the Black Forest (where he sent her after the bombing began, although she came back to Berlin at least once)—but she sets out to find him and see what she can do for him. It’s gritty, includes some interesting (and, I suspect, plausible) details about ordinary people in Berlin coping with the situation (they learn to count to eight for the bombs in each U.S. heavy bomber during nighttime raids), and—well, I guess it ends happily.

It’s a little slow, and maybe that’s intentional. It’s also quite good, with some remarkably good scenes and Hurley doing subtle, generally deglamorized work. If you don’t mind a fundamentally serious movie, you’ll probably like this. The print is usually better than usual: Somewhere between VHS and DVD quality—but about 10% of the time, something happens and it’s got jaggies and vertical jitters. All in all, though, the problems don’t distract from a very good picture.

The answer? It’s a BBC television production, and since it’s not a series, BBC probably didn’t think they could gouge sell pricey DVDs successfully in the U.S. (Reading IMDB, I see that this is apparently based on a true story.) This one’s worth $1.75.

Ginger in the Morning, 1974, color. Gordon Wiles (dir.), Monte Markham, Susan Oliver, Mark Miller, Sissy Spacek, Slim Pickens, David Doyle. 1:30 [1:33]

This begins with two entirely different scenes. In one, a young woman—OK, let’s say it, a hippie chick (Sissy Spacek)—is getting out of a truck, thanking the driver, and starting to thumb her way along the highway again, suitcase and guitar case in hand. In the other, a vaguely worried man (Monte Markham) is deplaning and being pestered by someone he must have been seated next to on the plane, a middle-aged dirty old man (David Doyle) telling him he should go out and get laid a lot (he’s been divorced for a couple of months), that he should say “motel” right away when picking up a woman so he knows where he stands… And then they come together, as he (Markham, not Doyle—thankfully, we never see Doyle again) passes her on the highway, turns around, gets a flat tire in the process, and they wind up in the car together.

After this “meet cute,” we have a three-day story (starting on December 30) that winds up with an odd sort of Happily Ever After ending and involves the worried man, the young woman, the man’s rowdy friend who’s in Mexico but flies back to see him, the rowdy friend’s ex-wife who also happens to be in town…and, for good measure, Slim Pickens as the sheriff of Santa Fe (where this is all set).

I want to like this movie more than I do. Unfortunately, much of it is drunken carousing, and neither of the primary characters seem concerned that they’re apparently both badly-functioning alcoholics. That, and the somewhat vapid characterization by Spacek, diminish an otherwise interesting little film. (OK, so Spacek was probably 22 at the time this was filmed, and had to work with a poor script. She apparently wrote her own songs; they’re actually pretty good.) Good print. This has the feel of a TV movie, but apparently it wasn’t. All told, I’ll give it $1.25.

The River Niger, 1976, color. Krishna Shah (dir.), Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett Jr., Glynn Turman, Jonelle Allen, Roger E. Mosely. 1:45.

A superb cast, a generally very good print (except that the music, written & performed by WAR, is sometimes wavering as though there were soundtrack problems), a Tony Award-winning play opened out into a movie.

I’m not sure how much more to say. I’m probably not the natural audience. The movie, set in an LA ghetto (presumably Watts), features James Earl Jones as an alcoholic house-painter/poet trying to keep his family together, Cicely Tyson as his wife, stricken with cancer, Louis Gossett Jr. as the best friend and local doctor—and a remarkable crowd of other actors. It’s a movie of its time, and very well done. Summarizing the actual plot would be of no particular use.

I don’t quite understand how this movie could be in this set, but that’s a common theme here. I’ll give it $2.

Social networks: Progress report

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

A mere 16 days ago, I posted “Still around, not posting much,” noting what I was doing rather than blogging–namely “Phase 1.5” of the research for my book on public libraries in social networks.

I aimed to finish phase 1.5–cleaning up the saved tweets and wall updates and characterizing them–while I was still 65. At that point, I thought I’d be ready to do a quick pass for “extra” libraries (libraries where someone sent me comments for the book, where the library isn’t in one of the 25 surveyed states) and start preparing metrics and actually working on the book. Somewhere in there, I’d also do a hardnosed edit on already-written material for the October 2011 Cites & Insights and probably publish it.

Yes and no

Yes, I did finish Phase 1.5 by September 14, 2011, the day I turned 66.

No, I wasn’t ready to start preparing metrics and actually working on the book (that is, start writing text).

What happened in the middle: One of those who sent me info was Susan Mark, Statistics Librarian at the Wyoming State Library. Wyoming has very few reporting library agencies, and Mark had a list of those with Facebook pages. It’s one of the 25 states.

And my list didn’t match hers. Not even close.

So, after some digging around, I found that the problem was libraries with no obvious Facebook link on their websites (or at least on the home pages), and where the Facebook page itself didn’t show up high enough in a Bing search result (I was checking 15 or 20 pages). By using my brain and Ctrl-f (and Google, although I don’t think that made the big difference), I was able to check the first 100 results…and add in the missing libraries.

While it would be perfectly reasonable to focus on Twitter and Facebook uses that are linked from library home pages, I knew that I already had a fair number that weren’t–and thought it might be worthwhile seeing how many more I was missing. I took the first 100 (of 1,500+) remaining libraries and retested–just searching on Google and looking for a Facebook page in the first 100 results–figuring that if I found 5 or fewer, I’d just let it be.

I didn’t find 5 or fewer.

So I’ve now retested all 1,500+ libraries. Since I already knew these didn’t have obvious FB links on the home pages, I just worked with Google and the browser’s Find function. (There are so many fewer Twitter accounts, and they’re so much harder to find, that I didn’t bother.)

The results? Instead of 841 sets of Facebook updates and 370 sets of tweets (336 with both), I now have 1,158 set of Facebook updates, 381 sets of tweets (the extras mostly coming from the 19 “extra” libraries)–and 346 with both.

I just finished cleaning up and characterizing those updates and tweets this morning. So I’m now roughly where I expected to be last Wednesday—but with a whole bunch more libraries involved and some interesting new data.

By the way, it’s still true that, as far as I can determine, most public libraries (in the half of the country I tested) do not have either general-purpose Facebook or Twitter accounts (excluding teen departments), but “most” is a narrow figure: 1,231 libraries didn’t show either one, while 1,194 showed one or the other. (That number includes the Extra 19, all of which have one or the other–it would be 1,212 to 1,175 otherwise.)

You will find pages on Facebook for most public libraries, but hundreds of those pages are “community pages” that were neither created by the library nor have anything to do with them.

How many libraries are active on Facebook or Twitter? That depends on your definition of “active.” I’ll get into that more in the book and possibly in posts later on (or even in Cites & Insights if there’s too much blather to include in a relatively short book that’s mostly about what libraries do well).. Just to offer two data points:

  • 86 of the libraries with Facebook accounts (having at least one Like and at least one post–I didn’t include accounts that don’t meet those fairly minimal criteria) have averaged less than one post per month. Notably, 66 of those 86 lack obvious FB links on the library websites; I’m guessing most of them are fully abandoned. Another 75 have averaged less than two posts per month, but for a very small library that may be entirely appropriate…
  • 108 libraries have fewer than one Like per 1,000 residents.

Now on to metrics and some writing…noting that I’ll be doing a second research pass roughly one quarter after the first one (within a day or two either way), adding more new accounts and updating other figures. For Twitter, that means I can get reasonably accurate rates of activity–and for both, I’ll include a “freshness” measure for the most recent update or tweet, so that I can offer a reasonably sound basis for “active” or not.

In passing, I’ll note that marking up the updates has left me even more admiring the extent to which many very small public libraries serve their communities well with minimal resources. I always had such admiration, but it’s stronger. (It’s also a little remote: I’ve never lived in a town with a public library/system serving fewer than 50,000 people.)

So: Lots more blogging? Probably not. Did the C&I receive the intense editorial scrutiny I’d planned? Well…you be the judge.


Cites & Insights October 2011 Now Available

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Cites & Insights 11:9 (October 2011) is now available for downloading at

The 28-page issue (PDF as usual, with HTML versions of each essay available, either from the C&I home page–which will, incidentally, remind you that contributions or sponsorship are both welcome and might help keep this nonsense going–or from the title links below) includes:

Making it Work: Websites and Social Networks   pp. 1-17

Some notes on sampling public library websites (2,406 of them in 25 U.S. states) as part of the research for my 2012 book, a few idle thoughts on public library websites, and a Making it Work roundup and commentary on librarians and social networks.

T&QT Retrospective: Far-Away Services with Strange Sounding Names   pp. 17-22

Remember Cuil? Remember Knol? Oddly enough, the latter’s still around–but the former may have been a Bigger Deal as a one-week web wonder. Looking back and sideways with a little bemusement.

Offtopic Perspective: 50 Movie Comedy Kings, Part 1  pp. 22-28

Better than the Legends of Horror multipack, with occasional flashes of brilliance (and occasional flashes of stereotyping and schtick).

Now, back to the research and book writing…



Still around, still not posting much

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

Yawn. If there’s a staple of blogging, it’s the “I haven’t been posting much” post.

But heck, what good’s a meme if you can’t participate?

I’ll probably continue not posting much for at least another 10 days, because… (in my mind, I hear that intoned as part of a Almond Joy/Mars ad–odd, since I don’t eat either one)

Into phase 1.5 of research for the new book

Well, that’s along with turning around the book on micropublishing, writing one long essay for the October Cites & Insights, writing one short piece for C&I, wrapping up the first half of a 50-movie megapack (all of which means that I probably have the draft form of the October issue in place), going to see H.M.S. Pinafore, running scenarios to see when I should start collecting Social Security and how much we can spend without risking running out of $ by the time I’m 100, and being a lazy oaf as usual…

Phase 1.5? Going through 875 sets of tweets and Facebook statuses captured during Phase 1 (I copied-and-pasted, text only, the most recent five of each as I was noting other metrics), turning the raw text into something I could use (that is, one paragraph per tweet or status, shorn of most overhead) and noting the overall theme of each group and, for libraries with both, how they relate to one another. (I looked at the most recent 20 tweets or updates; in almost every case, what I see from the most recent 5 is true of the whole stream–e.g., some libraries use a social network entirely for events, some entirely for events, services and programs, some for a whole mix of stuff, at least one strictly to announce weekly sets of new books.)

That’s all additional fodder for the book, but with 875 sets–841 sets of Facebook updates, 370 sets of tweets, 336 with both–it takes a while. “Piecemeal” effort: do ten sets, play a little poker, do ten sets, check FriendFeed, do ten sets, check gmail, and so on. After or during which I’ll do more metrics and try to contact some of the libraries that stand out (for the good) in some respect, to get more feedback.

Target: Finish phase 1.5 while I’m still 65 years old. That gives me 10 days, which seems about right.

So that’s why I’m not blogging much and probably won’t be for a while. In the time it took to write this, I could have done another five sets…but I needed the break.

Review of Open Access: What You Need to Know Now

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

I’m delighted to note that there’s a review of Open Access: What You Need to Know Now on pages 452 and 453 of the September 2011 Journal of Academic Librarianship. The reviewer is David Gibbs at Lauinger Library (Georgetown University); as far as I know, I’m not acquainted with Gibbs.

It’s an excellent review–not only because it’s favorable but because it’s careful (and not wholly favorable–Gibbs says I’m “not always the clearest writer,” a comment that brought forth approving laughter from my wife, the librarian).

Here’s his conclusion, after noting that–by design–the book only deals with scholarly journal articles:

That said, this is a highly readable and recommended survey of one of the most important issues facing librarians and libraries in the 21st century.

If your library doesn’t already have a copy, it should. It’s never too late to order one–noting that Amazon offers a Kindle ebook version and ALA Editions offers a whole bundle of them, if paper isn’t your thing.

Turns out there’s at least one other print review (in addition to John Dupuis’ blog review, which I believe I noted earlier)–in the August 2011 Voice of Youth Advocates. Unfortunately, that one concludes that “This is a helpful work on an important trend, but most VOYA readers will find the cost a barrier.”

50 Movie Comedy Kings, Disc 6

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

The Groom Wore Spurs, 1951, b&w. Richard Whorf (dir.), Ginger Rogers, Jack Carson, Joan Davis, Stanley Ridges, John Litel, James Brown, Victor Sen Yung. 1:20.

Romantic comedy with a plot line that may seem preposterous, but maybe not. A beautiful and all-business young female attorney shows up at a doorway, summoned to meet with an actor who stars in singing-cowboy films (but neither does his own riding nor his own singing)—and the first thing she sees is his awful fast-draw performance. But she likes him, and agrees to take on the unusual case: He lost $60,000 to a gambler in Vegas and doesn’t either want to pay the full amount or have the gambler’s friends-with-guns show up.

Next thing we know, she’s on his private plane to Vegas. They meet the gambler, but he has other problems and postpones a meet until 2 a.m. Now the two are in a convertible stepping out to view Hoover Dam, there’s some awkward/cute conversation, and next thing we know the two are married. And, as it turns out, the gambler was helped out by the attorney’s father, and writes off the 60 big ones as a wedding present.

She concludes she’s been had—in addition to mostly being a phony on screen, the actor’s clearly a ladies’ man. But she clearly still has Feelings. Lots more comedy, much of it pretty good, although there’s also a murder as part of the plot. If you accept the premise that two rational adults could meet and become engaged or married on the first date, the rest is semi-plausible. As for that premise…well, it’s absurd, of course, except that I’ve now been married for more than 33.5 years to a woman who I proposed to on our first date.

Ginger Rogers is Ginger Rogers: Lovely, amusing, and does a great job in any role. The rest of the cast is also excellent, part of the reason this lightweight film gets a solid $1.50.

Heading for Heaven, 1947, b&w. Lewis D. Collins (dir.), Stuart Erwin, Glenda Farrell, Russ Vincent, Irene Ryan, Milburn Stone. 1:05 [1:11]

The comedy setup here is common enough: Guy gets a physical exam, overhears the doctor discussing someone else’s case, assumes he’s dying when he’s actually healthy. In this case, the background is that a small-town realtor has held on to 100 acres east of town, where his father and grandfather both assumed the town would grow, turning down offers to make it an amusement park or a cemetery or whatever…while the town continues to grow west.

After the local banker says the town would like to buy the land for a town dump and gets turned down, two guys from an airline show up wanting to buy it for an airport—and, when he won’t take a pretty good price, suggest they might instead buy an adjacent 60-acre plot (which, as they note later, wouldn’t work because the adjacent land is overrun by power lines). The realtor buys the adjacent land—and then finds out he’s dying. Meanwhile, the banker and a swami who’s been doing séances for his wife and the local ladies wants to swindle him out of most of the airline’s money, so concocts a phony telegram saying the airline’s no longer interested.

That’s just the first part of a fast-moving plot that involves assumed suicide, hobos, applejack and an unusual séance. All turns out well. And it’s actually fairly amusing, although certainly lightweight. If you’re in the mood, it’s worth $1.25.

His Private Secretary, 1933, b&w. Phil Whitman (dir.), Evalyn Knapp, John Wayne, Reginald Barlow, Alec B. Francis. 1:00.

Previously reviewed as part of 50 Movie Hollywood Legends. What I said then:

A young John Wayne plays the playboy son of a millionaire businessman. The father demands the son take over as collection agent. He goes to a nearby small town to collect a debt, in the process picking up (and offending) a beautiful young girl—who turns out to be the daughter of the near-deaf minister he’s supposed to collect the debt from. He winds up forgiving the debt and getting fired for his trouble.

After various shenanigans and his continued stalking attempts to get on the right side of the girl, he succeeds and marries her—but his father assumes she’s a gold-digger and tells him to get rid of her. Somehow, she winds up becoming her father’s new private secretary—the best he’s ever had—but then leaves town because she thinks the playboy’s still a player. Everything works out in the end: This is, after all, a romantic comedy, if a surprisingly short one. Nothing spectacular, but not bad. I’ll give it $1.25.

I’m From Arkansas, 1944, b&w. Lew Landers (dir.), Slim Summerville, El Brendel, Iris Adrian, Bruce Bennett, Maude Eburne, Cliff Nazarro. 1:10 [1:07]

The sleeve plot description is almost entirely wrong, except for the key “plot” point in this set of songs thinly disguised as a comedy: It all starts with Esmerelda, a sow in Pitchfork, Arkansas who gives birth to 18 piglets. And ends with Pitchfork (now Pitchfork Springs) becoming a state spa resort for its healing springs—foiling the designs of a Pork Magnate to turn it into the world’s biggest pig farm.

In the middle, we have a Western radio big band, all of whom go back to Pitchfork for their summer break—and a female troupe of entertainers (singers & dancers) whose manager thinks the Sow Sensation should make Pitchfork a great place to play and takes them there, without bothering to find out whether Pitchfork even has a theater or nightclub (which it doesn’t). Naturally, the two groups wind up in the same room & board place, owned by the sow’s widowed owner, and the Western band plays a little joke on the female entertainers (who respond to a whole bunch of stereotypical hillbilly behavior by assuming they’re dealing with hillbillies) by turning into extreme hillbillies. Who also happen to be professional-quality musicians.

All of which is probably more discussion than the “plot” deserves. There are ten songs, all well done, in a 67-minute flick; the rest of the movie comes off as a semi-amusing wrapper for the songs. I would have been offended by the stereotyping (pretty extreme in some cases), except that the band playing with it defuses it somewhat. Oh: The daughter of the sow-owner/hotelier is the damnedest yodeler I have ever heard, and the female troupe’s manager does some great doubletalk routines. Amusing, and probably worth $1.25.

Comments from libraries using social networks: One more time

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Thanks to the 47 library folks who have responded to earlier requests. I’d love to have a few more responses by September 14, 2011, along the following lines:

Basic Information

Library/district official name
State, province or country
Service area population
Your name, title and email address
Whether you’re willing to have your comments used as direct quotations or only as background.

Comments on Twitter or Facebook (or both—indicate which):

Whatever you feel is worth saying about how your library uses the social network, how much time is spent preparing items and responding to items (if you do that), whether one person or many post, the feedback you’ve gotten from your patrons, whether it seems worthwhile—and whatever else you think is worth mentioning.

Comments on the relationship between the two (if you use both):

Do you use them for different purposes, or are Facebook statuses basically longer versions of tweets (or maybe the same)? Other comments on the differences and similarities as your library has used them?


I can’t guarantee your comments will be used—I’d expect that no more than 2,000-3,000 words of the book will be comments from these emails. I will list you in the acknowledgments (unless you ask me not to do so) and your comments will definitely help as I prepare the subjective portions of the book.

Please email comments to waltcrawford at

If your library stopped using either or both (yes, I have at least one such response), I’d be interested in knowing that as well–and why.

The checked states

Responses are invited from people in one of the 25 states where I’ve checked websites of libraries (“libraries” as defined by the state’s own statistical reports)–a little over 2,400 in all, not the 2,500 I estimated in earlier comments–and also from those in other states, provinces and nations.

Here are the states I’ve checked:

California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Minnesota, New Jersey, Arizona, Washington, Maryland, Missouri, Colorado, Louisiana, South Carolina, Kentucky, Oregon, Connecticut, Mississippi, Utah, Nevada, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, Wyoming.

Libraries in those states have defined primary service area populations totaling 163,657,750 based on the most recent state reports (2009 in most cases)–a little more than half the nation’s total, albeit a lot less than half of the public libraries.(There are hundreds of small and rural libraries in this sample–174 libraries serving fewer than 1,000 people and 639 in all serving fewer than 5,000.)

[The states are in descending order by total of the PSA populations. That’s not always the same as the state’s total population, for various reasons, and in one or two cases is distinctly larger due to reporting oddities, which will not be dealt with in this project.]

Anyway: More responses welcome, and thanks again to those who have responded so far.


Milestones, books, lists not discussed

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Just a quick multifunction post for no particular reason:

  • I reached a milestone yesterday, completing Phase 1 of my 2012 book project–that is, checking public libraries/library agencies in half of the U.S. states for presence on Twitter or Facebook. More than 2,500 libraries checked in all, starting near the end of July. (There will be a followup, intended to be precisely three months after the initial scans.)
  • I have not yet started on any of the data analysis or real work on the project, and probably won’t even add the key columns to the spreadsheet(s) until I’ve taken a day or two away from the project. Conclusions will, of course, be part of the book. On the other hand…
  • The process involved looking at more library websites than I’d ever expected to, and that did generate some thoughts that have very little to do with the book. I may turn those thoughts into a casual essay (or part of an essay) for Cites & Insights. (No, I’m not planning any grand set of guidelines or critiques–others who are closer to the issues have done those or will do them. These will be casual thoughts.)
  • Also completed the first half of a closer milestone: Making changes in my current book project (The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing) based on the editorial pass. Starting, oh, as soon as I finish this post, I’ll be doing the second half of that milestone: Detailed copyfitting to deal with awkward line-break hyphens and the like. (For very good reasons, I’m doing the actual layout on this book.)
  • Once that’s well under way, I’ll do some C&I writing…and maybe get back to watching old movies.
  • I am firmly resolved not to deal with a silly list issued by some college that gets lots of attention for the list. I looked at part of it, broke down laughing, and decided that it wasn’t worth the time or attention. Silliness is always with us; the Onion and Cronk do it better.
  • Speaking of old movies, which I wasn’t, our Saturday movie last weekend was a reminder of why I don’t plan to give up on physical discs any time soon–the Blu-ray version of Forbidden Planet, magnificently restored–and with loads of extras, running to more than four hours altogether, I think (including some we won’t bother with, such as the full-length 1957 film that also “starred” Robby, the Robot). Yes, we’ve seen the classic movie (perhaps the first A-level SF movie?) before; no, we’ve never seen it like this–and even if we had high-speed broadband, you can’t get this level of picture quality via streaming.
  • And to close this randomness: Perhaps worth noting that, of all the Blu-ray discs we’ve watched from Netflix–probably 80% of the discs over the last couple years, certainly more than 100 discs–only one has had any problems. (That one looked as though someone had deliberately tried to damage it, and succeeded.) That tough coating on Blu-rays apparently works: Most of them look as though they’d never been played.

A few posts I’m not writing

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Now there’s a potentially endless series…

I suspect my posts have even been less regular than usual, if such a thing is possible. (There’s a retired library person who lives in Livermore who posts every. single. weekday, if regularity is your thing…)

Last weekend, I considered doing a series of daily posts this week and next about progress on the two book projects that are currently overlapping, and where doing semi-overlapping work (a couple of hours each day on each one) turns out to be the best way to proceed.

That didn’t happen and won’t happen. The book projects, and my own overriding laziness (well, and some real-life situations), are the reasons for so few posts.


  • One project came back from line editing on Tuesday. It’s an odd hybrid project where I’m doing the layout as a fundamental part of the book. I’m waiting for some responses on a few layout issues, but meanwhile I’ll start this morning on some needed additional text (probably 500-1000 words). I have until a week from Sunday to finish the textual and layout changes, so in practice working a couple of hours a day is a good way to proceed.
  • The other project is nearing the end of Phase 1 of the research stage, after which I’ll start on the actual writing–at a very preliminary level. The research has gone far beyond what I originally anticipated (I first planned to look at libraries in two states, then in six; now it looks like 25), and it’s straightforward enough that I plan to do a three-month follow-up, which should be revealing.

Somehow, once I’ve done some work on each project (I’d been doing more on the second one while awaiting the editorial notes & queries), I’m all written out: Writing a post is rarely of much interest. Sorry about that. Then again, do you really care that I’m halfway through scanning Kentucky libraries (that’s what I would have said yesterday early afternoon–I’m done, with Oregon up next)?

[LSW FFeeps probably recognize I was doing Kentucky yesterday, as I found Madisonville’s URL for their public library website so remarkable as to be worth noting–namely And yes, there’s a in Missouri. Did you know there are more than 700 LSW folks on FriendFeed?]


A twin non-review

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

My habitual pattern of public library use is to check out three books: One “genre” fiction (alternating between Science Fiction and occasional Fantasy on one hand, mystery on the other), one mainstream fiction (whatever that means–basically “fiction books that Livermore Public hasn’t segregated into genre shelves), and one nonfiction. LPL has a 4-week circulation period. Most often, I finish the three books in three weeks. Most often, I enjoy them all.

The last two cycles, though, I really haven’t enjoyed the nonfiction books. In one case, I finished the book (it was a struggle) and wondered why I’d wasted so much time. In the other, the writing was facile enough and the book short enough that I could breeze right through–but I was annoyed by the whole thing.

Thinking back on it, the two books have something in common.

What they have in common: They’re variants of Hunter Thompson’s gonzo journalism, but without Hunter Thompson’s sheer manic flair. That is, in both cases, the book seems to be a lot more about the writer than it is about the subject.

In one case, the supposed subject is the situation in Florida after the 2000 presidential election. In the other case, it’s the New Yorker (the supposed decline thereof, although the writer who denounces the post-Wallace Shawn magazine somehow managed to keep working there for another fifteen years).

I originally included the authors and titles here, but that’s hardly the point. I know that I never want to read another book by either of them (even though one has an excellent reputation in some circles).

No big significant message here. I was surprised to find that these two disappointments did have as much in common as they did. I don’t feel that nonfiction writers should minimize their personal appearance within a book–I like getting to know the writer as well as the subject–but there are limits.