Librarian Throwdown

January 15, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 6 Comments

Last night I went to the library with Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?.  I’m glad we were together because she was witness to a peculiar transaction with a new librarian.

It was a brief stop on the way to videotape ourselves doing a team review of the Twilight series, which should hopefully appear next week.  I mention this because I was slightly dressed up, wearing a fluffy pink sweater, and it seems possible that might have played a role in what happened.  Maybe I managed to look like a ditz, I dunno.

Anyway.  I went up to the counter to check out a few books for some of the challenges I’m in: Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates, The Mill on the Floss, and Bowling Alone.  This is fairly typical of my tastes.  The librarian looked at my patron record and asked if I had turned in my overdue book.

That was the first red flag.  I’ll turn in a book one day late maybe once every six weeks or so.  When I do, I pay my 30 cent fine without complaint.  In the four years I’ve used this branch library, never once has a librarian asked me about an overdue book.  It’s also strange that it hadn’t already been checked in, since we’d been there 10 or 15 minutes and I’d set it on the check-in counter when we’d walked in.

I pulled out a dollar bill and offered to pay the fine.  The librarian told me I couldn’t pay it until the book was checked in – which I understand, but I got the impression he didn’t believe me when I told him I had turned it in a few minutes earlier.  “Fine,” I thought, “don’t rub it in.”  Then he asked me in a rather sarcastic tone if I had anything I wanted to renew.  Um, no!  My next book isn’t due for two days and I’ve already started it.  Sheesh.  What, you don’t think I can read a 400-page novel in three evenings?

I’m starting to think this guy is getting a little pissy, and I have no real idea why.  I am exceptionally polite and I’m on a chatty basis with most of the librarians in three branches.  I visited the branch near my old job after about a year’s absence, and the librarian on duty told me “we miss you around here.”  One of the gals at the branch closer to my new job actually invited me to a party at her house!  I don’t think it’s me that’s setting this guy off here.

The next thing he does is make a huge fuss about printing out the entire list of books I have checked out.  This is optional, people.  I am well aware that I have exactly 19 books checked out, which ones they are, and on what days they are due.  The limit is 30.  This printing out of the six-inch receipt is a little passive aggressive trick I’ve encountered once or twice before.  Look, just print the day’s transaction and save some paper!

Now, I understand that many library patrons are pretty useless when it comes to keeping track of their books.  I’ve been witness to many a pitiful scene wherein someone tries to escape paying a fine, usually under a dollar but sometimes the replacement cost of several lost books and videos.  I know quite well that people bring things back torn, stained, water damaged, and scratched beyond usability.  So I can cut a tired librarian some slack, and up to this point it’s entirely possible that my perception this librarian is scoffing at me is purely in my imagination.

Then he stacks up my three books, literally slapping the thin Joyce Carol Oates volume onto the top.

As we walk out, Trish asks, “Did he just totally slap that book down?”  All I can do is laugh.  Gee, New Librarian Dude, thanks for taking me down a peg in front of my friend!  You’re clearly right.  I check out too many books, and since one came back a day late you’re also clearly right that I’m out of control and can’t keep track of them all.  So-rry.

On the other hand, perhaps this is a new era, and the library is bringing in former Navy SEALs to handle all the lowlifes who tend to hang out there.

Two-for-One Review: “The Great Railway Bazaar” and “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star”

January 15, 2009 at 1:00 am | Posted in Nonfiction, Two-for-One Review | 1 Comment

Paul Theroux has done something novel.  He has written a travelogue based on retracing his route from a travelogue he wrote three decades earlier.  Reading both of these together is fascinating on multiple levels.

The Great Railway Bazaar is full to the brim with Asia and with the irascible Theroux, his cigars, and his alcoholic benders.  It’s worth picking it up just to see the author photo, with those 70s sideburns, the checked jacket, and the paisley tie.  The Great Railway Bazaar probably touched off the trend of accurate, rather than romantic, travel writing, and it’s interesting for that.  It can also be read as an elegy for a vanished world, including Yugoslavia, Anatolia, Ceylon, Burma, and the USSR, as well as Theroux’s adored railroads.  Of course, if you’d like to read Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, this earlier work, while not essential to understanding, serves as a strong basis for comparison between the two worlds and the two Therouxes, young and old.

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star is a rewarding read.  Theroux has aged well, though he still comes across as a crusty old curmudgeon and he still likes to get soused.  There are some great comic moments when he meets people who have read one of his books but don’t recognize him.  He seems to have found peace with some spiritual issues, and I very much enjoyed reading his various attempts at charity.  Much more than his constant semi-dalliances:  we can’t tell whether he just likes to chat with prostitutes or if there’s more going on, and frankly we don’t want to know.  In Ghost Train we pick up bits of the back story behind Railway Bazaar.  The older Theroux is more thoughtful, more patient, and a better writer.  Ghost Train also touches more explicitly on politics and globalization.  It’s a great read and a great way to learn about places you might never see, like Turkmenistan.

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