I was sitting on the bench by the Park Avenue entrance to the library during my lunch hour today, reading Adam Goodheart's 1861:  The Civil War Awakening on my Sony Reader.  A couple of women office workers passed by, about to climb the steps.  One of them jokingly chided me, "It's sacrilege, sitting in front of the library and reading on one of those things!"

I laughed, "I'm getting used to it!  Times are changing."  When they came back down, I added, "I am reading a library book."  They were taken aback.  They had not known that the library offered e-books.  Her companion said that she had thought about buying an e-reader for a family member, but was hesitant.  She was glad to know that the library had e-books, "Awesome!"

And I am getting used to my Sony Reader.  It lives in my bag now.  The only problem with 1861 is the photos.  They are very small on the e-reader.  I have to make an enlarging movement on the screen with my fingers to get a good look at them.

One thing I like is something Eric the retired cataloger mentioned, the dictionary.  You touch and hold on the word, and a definition appears.  So often I have neglected to look up a word when reading because of the inconvenience of it.  The Sony PRS-T1 has a variety of dictionaries, including two in English, the New Oxford American Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary of English.  The others are for French, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch.


A Power Outage

I was hanging wet socks and underwear on racks in the garage when I heard the dryer cut off.  Moments later R. poked her head out the back door and said the electricity had gone off  It was 4:30 p.m.

It had been a windy day, following last night's thunderstorm, and returning from a walk earlier, we had noticed R.s bedside clock "blinking twelve", so we'd already had a brief outage.

She had meant to cook picadillo for supper, and she forged ahead, (we have a gas range, which can be lit with matches when the power is out).  She set up a directional flashlight on a tripod to help as the light waned, pressing me into service to chop shallots, garlic, poblano peppers, olives.  Could I get the portable radio going with batteries?  Alas, we were out of AA batteries.  Surely, I thought, the power would be back on soon.

A trip to the drugstore for AA batteries began to seem like a good idea.  Without electricity, I had to open the garage door manually, but it wouldn't stay open enough to take the car, so I took the Vespa.  I saw that the power was out all along Magnolia Avenue, the local artery, and the traffic light at Circle & Magnolia was out as well.

We ate our supper by candle light, listening to Harp & Thistle on the radio.  By now it was quite dark.  We prayed the rosary, and then listened to more NPR:  Fresh Air, The Splendid Table, Millennium of Music.  We had looked forward to tonight's episode of Downton Abbey, but it was not to be.  We'll have to watch the repeat  on Saturday.

She thanked me for going to get batteries for the radio, and I agreed, it was a great comfort.  I thought what the advent of the radio must have meant to people back in the 1920's and '30's.

R. went to bed.  I read on my Sony Reader by candle light for an hour or so.  At a quarter to twelve the lights came on.  I reset her alarm clock without waking her, reset the garage door, started the dryer, put the leftovers in the refrigerator, prepared the coffee maker, hung the clothes in the dryer on hangers.


Heavy Lifting

It makes me smile to think how what I did today is a lot like what I started out doing in the book business.  My first bookstore job was as a receiving clerk.  I would open boxes of books and check the contents against the packing lists, before sending them out to be shelved.

Another time I had a temporary position shipping book returns for an outdoor shop: checking publishers' returns policies and boxing up books to be returned.

Books and boxes are my destiny, it seems, even in the supposedly cerebral position of reference librarian.  I am responsible for returning books leased from Baker & Taylor, a book wholesaler.  We lease quantities of bestsellers from them to fill the initial demand on publication, and return them when they are no longer needed.  I remove them from the shelves and pack them up, marking them on an inventory list, and ship them back twice yearly.

1500+ books, 56 boxes, eight trips from the second floor to the garage.  Pickup is scheduled for Monday.


Potatoes or Rice?

I was checking The Joy of Cooking before baking a couple of potatoes on Monday, when I found a reference to a Potato Monument that once stood in Germany, dedicated to "Sir Francis Drake, the introducer of potatoes into Europe, in the year of our Lord 1586."

Back at work on Tuesday, I came across, while looking for something else, a fine article about potatoes in Smithsonian magazine, How the Potato Changed the World.

I don't know why I am bothering to write about potatoes.  Researching the Potato Monument, I see that potatoes are everywhere written about, photographed, praised, and rightly so.  I love a steak and baked potato, a burger and fries.

But I have my limit.  In the North, potatoes are served with everything, it sometimes seems.  It is rice that I begin to miss.  If you had dined with me on Sunday at Siam Sushi, you would have heard me exclaim, after devouring a plate of shrimp fried rice, "I've had my rice fix!"

In the U.S., rice is a Southern thing.  It's not just something you have with Chinese or Mexican food.    It is grown here.  Uncle Ben's Converted Rice is the commercial expression of Southern rice culture.  When I lived in New Orleans, I loved to go to Buster Holmes for a plate of red beans and rice.

 If I had to pick one dish to eat, it would be beans and rice, not potatoes.  Maybe chicken and rice on Sundays.  An heirloom rice has been resurrected as Carolina Gold, but I've tried it, and I prefer basmati rice.


Don't Touch His Books...

Note from reader, 'Do not touch My Books Please.  I am researching the "minds" of the Ancients, "Recently or long since deceased."'

We left them alone for a day or so, but he didn't return to claim them.

Dirty weather today:  cold, wet, windy.  A good day to spend at the library.


Birds, Bookstores v. Amazon, E-Readers

The cedar waxwings arrived on Wednesday, swarming over the tall savannah holly trees around the library to gorge on their berries.  And then on Thursday morning, my yard was full of robins, feeding on camphor berries from my trees.  I refilled my backyard bird-baths so they could bathe and drink.

There was a significant article in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago.  Julie Bosman, in The Bookstore's Last Stand, says that Barnes & Noble, (which absorbed the earlier Bookstop chain that I worked for in the '80's),  blamed for killing independent bookstores, is now retail bookselling's last hope against the Goliath that is Amazon.

A story in the NYT's Bits blog on February 8, Amazon, Up in Flames, by David Streitfeld, continues the conversation, particularly in the comments.  One commenter recommended an article from the June 8, 2009 issue of The Nation magazine, The Long Goodbye? The Book Business and its Woes, by Elisabeth Sifton.  "Sifton's essay details the current state of the publishing world from an insider's perspective; Sifton is the senior vice president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux."

I found it on the shelf, and it is well worth reading.  A sample paragraph:

It's a colossal irony to have the guys and gals of Amazon, Google and their ilk lusting for free book "content" as premium material on which to stake their enlarged claims to commercial riches. For these clever mathematicians and engineers who are shaping the electronic business of our time and the archives of the future, these baby-faced young entrepreneurs, have risen to their mercantile eminence without encountering books, and don't think they need to. I enjoyed the fatuous surprise of Google's Sergey Brin discovering that "There is fantastic information in books. Often when I do a search, what is in a book is miles ahead of what I find on a Web site." Translating this backhanded recognition of value into his own debased lingo, he understands that books make for "viable information-retrieval systems," information being the only cultural signifier he recognizes, evidently. His company's amazing presumption that book people should simply hand over the keys to their priceless kingdom shows how completely he and his colleagues misunderstand what is at stake.
The article is not available free online, but I can send it to you.

We had an e-reader show-and-tell today, with a digital downloads presentation by Kristina H., our digital device guru.  The room was crowded with staff from other departments and library branches.  I was only able to attend for a few minutes, since I had to man the Adult Services desk at opening.  I saw lots of different Kindles and Nooks, but I think I had the only Sony Reader.  It was a great success.  Good to share our knowledge with the other librarians.

I have opened my wallet for a couple of e-books:  Ignatius Press's Revised Standard Version of The Holy Bible, 2nd Catholic Edition, and from the Sony Reader Store The Works of Anthony Trollope, 50+ books for five dollars and change.  But it's hard to change horses.  I am still reading a hardback copy of Trollope's Doctor Thorne.