Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pleasantly Surprised

Over lunch today, I stood next to the reference desk at the West Lafayette Public Library and read a Dewey Decimal System sign while working up the courage to ask for help. The librarian working the desk asked, "Can I help you?"

"Yes," I said. "I was wondering if you could help me find a good book to read."

A sarcastic smile came to her face, which I didn't know how to interpret, but she followed it with a question: "Do you know what you're looking for?

I told her I liked women's lives and relationships type of books. That one of the books I liked recently was called Dixieland Sushi. She asked if this was fiction and I said yes. Then I told her another book I liked recently was called Hotel Riviera. At that point she said I was looking for light reading. I sensed a bit of judgment, but I agreed with that summary.

"Have you read Jennifer Cruise (sic)?" she then asked. I said no, but my answer was enthusiastic so she did a search for the author in the library catalog. There was a bit of a delay, and she kind of mumbled things to herself like, "There are only so many ways you can spell that name." But eventually she discovered that the last name was Crusie and told me that the library had at least a dozen of her titles in regular fiction. I asked where that was, and she said downstairs.

"If you're looking for humorous fiction," she added, "you could do a search in the catalog for that." I asked her how to do such a search, telling her I'd only used the new catalog once and it overwhelmed me, so she showed me.

Then suddenly I thought of Four to Score, so I told the librarian I also had enjoyed a book by Janet Evanovich recently.

"Those would be in mystery," she said.

"Are there any other authors like Evanovich?"

"Not now, but probably there will be soon."

We had reached a roadblock, but I continued to stand there, and the librarian was still typing things on her computer ...

"There are lots of funny mysteries written by women," she said. Then she told me there was an author whose last name was Davidson whose books were very popular. They featured a detective named Goldie something, who works as a caterer. Diane Mott Davidson. All of the books have food titles.

The foodie in me was getting excited, so I asked where the mystery section was. I then did a quick summary of her recommendations to make sure I had understood and that I knew where to find the titles. She confirmed everything, so I thanked her and then went downstairs to comb through the titles by Crusie and Davidson. I ended up checking out four books. The Crusie ones I'm not so sure about yet, but I'm excited to read Catering for Nobody and then, if I get hooked on Davidson, Dying for Chocolate.

Sure, I could pick apart the way the librarian answered my question. She shouldn't have given me the feeling that her reading tastes were above mine. She should have turned to face me more often and focused less on her computer. She probably shouldn't mumble things to herself. But I had gone into the situation expecting to get nothing out of it, and instead I left the library a happy customer. So overall, I'd say the librarian did her job.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"In a better, saner world …"

I just read Bob Lamm's "Reading Groups: Where Are All the Men?" for the second time, and my reaction is still, "You have got to be kidding me." I could go in a number of directions with my rant, but for the sake of brevity I'll focus in on one particular statement:

"In a better, saner world, men would look forward to Amy Tan's next novel, to the next Hollywood version of Little Women."

I'm sorry, but he did just imply that there's something wrong with the world because men don't go in droves to see the latest chick flick, or read voraciously from the Women's Lives and Relationships genre?

This seems both ridiculous and clueless to me. From what I've observed, men tend to be drawn to movies like Saving Private Ryan and books like Dune or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. In other words, there are certain genres that men tend to gravitate to, such as adventure and science fiction. So what if those genres don't happen to be the same ones that women tend to gravitate to?

I can't help but imagine what Lamm would be like if he were working as a reader's advisor. I can picture him trying to force feed Jane Austen to the male patrons -- thinking he was making the world a better place -- when all he was really doing was frustrating readers.

I say no to Lamm's vision of a better world. I would much rather live in a world where men and women are free to read (and watch) whatever they please. Sometimes their choices are going to be different, but that's okay. In fact, I would argue that people's differences are part of what makes life interesting. We should appreciate or at least respect those differences, rather than yearn for a culture of homogenized readers.