An American Tale

January 30, 2011

While I don’t know that Philipp Meyer’s American Rust actually establishes him as “the new John Steinbeck”, as one blurb said, the book was certainly a lot closer to those stories I love than any contemporary novel I’ve read in a long time.

American Rust is the story of Isaac English, a 20-year-old who’s out of high school but hasn’t left his steeltown Pennsylvania home because he cares for his ailing father. At the beginning of the novel he’s stolen $4000 from his father and plans to leave for California. Tragedies and near-tragedies follow as the book describes the repercussions of this act in the lives of 6 people: Isaac, his friend Billy Poe, Billy’s mother Grace, Isaac’s sister Lee and father Henry, and town police chief Bud Harris, who’s involved with Grace.

Free indirect discourse aligns the 3rd person narrator with each of the characters in turn, except for strange passages where it would suddenly switch to 1st person. For a sentence or two, and then back. I didn’t like it, although I’m game for most strange narrative techniques:  “He looked into the open dark doorway of the shop… Shouldn’t be proud, but I am. Thinking that he had an even stronger guilty feeling and went to look for his backpack in the field.”

But it was worth putting up with for the great story, and great characters. Meyer doesn’t shy away from the economic and moral poverty that defines the environment and characters he’s chosen, and he shows them all avoiding, then making, the difficult choices that come to each of us.  With a realistic hint of redemption at the end.

The best contemporary first novel I’ve read…probably ever.

Libraries and funding

January 29, 2011

Over here Philip Pullman’s speech regarding the closing of many, many UK libraries can be found. Give it a read, it’s well worth a few moments.

I would add one comment from a webcast I saw yesterday and an article I read last year. As much as, for most of us, the alignment of libraries as a social service for the underprivileged would be a good enough argument in itself,  that’s not the way to sell it to the people with the money. We need to show evidence of libraries as an economic driver. Hence the library service cost calculators (what would those services have cost if you had purchased them rather than getting them free through your library), and the return on investment figures (that $ compared to the tax $ that is put into libraries). The Free Library of Philadelphia did a very detailed study of its economic impact, tax revenues gained by people who find employment or start and maintain small businesses through using the library.

And it’s not just the ‘concrete’ resources that support economic innovation; reading fiction, of course, leads to greater empathy and greater creativity, both important entrepreneurial traits.

For lots of us, the library is about serving the underprivileged. But in the wider world, it can’t be about that, and it doesn’t just have to be.


January 26, 2011

Last week my parents and I saw The King’s Speech. Christopher Hitchens’ reservations about the history aside, it was the very best movie I’ve seen in a long time.

It was mostly, I think, because it was so subtle. The writing, the performances…it didn’t even have a climax, in the way movies or stories usually do. Just the conflicts and joys of people in relation to each other.

There was one moment, in a close-up of Geoffrey Rush, when I thought, none of these actors are typically attractive; none of them have made the choices typical of big-name actors. But there’s just something about some actors that’s unmistakable, you know? If King’s Speech doesn’t sweep the acting Oscars, I’ll be very unhappy. Besides, since Colin Firth didn’t get it for A Single Man, now they have to give it to him for his next movie, whatever it is (c.f. Denzel Washington, Training Day).

And tonight I’m watching Pineapple Express, which is a movie that is pretty unwatchable in a lot of ways, and for some reason, just because Seth Rogen and James Franco are so good (how can someone so pretty and smart be so good at acting so dirty and dumb?), I’m enjoying it.

Current reads

January 19, 2011

Ebooks and working at a library were both sure ways for me to get into trouble…now everything I read has a due date!

Except one thing: I’m almost done with Hugh MacLennan’s Two Solitudes, which is making me very sad that I didn’t take more Can. Lit. in school. It’s beautiful.

On the Kobo, I’m reading the 10th Anniversary ed. of the Dalai Lama’s Art of Happiness, and haven’t yet started Philipp Meyer’s American Rust. 1 week till Art of Happiness “expires” and just under 2 on Meyer.

Physical books: 2 from Annie Proulx, Fine Just the Way It Is, the 3rd volume of Wyoming stories, and the new memoir, Bird Cloud. And also Condoleezza Rice’s memoir Extraordinary, Ordinary People. At least I’ve got 3 weeks to get through those.

Here’s a post to be careful about.

Looks like, barring something unforeseen happening, my contract job at a public library will become permanent. This involved discussion of some major tradeoffs, but this library is serving a community that’s grown by 10,000 people, without any increase in staff. My position is the first new position in almost a decade.

What was most strange about the discussion, as reported to me, were some of the suggestions made about where other savings in the library budget could come from:

-Could the position, a full-time, professional position, be created without the benefits that all other municipal positions at this level have?

-Could my supervisor, who has obviously increased her responsibility, not be given the increase in salary that comes with supervision?


-Could the library staff go without the cost of living increase being extended to all other town employees?

None of these were the accepted solution, obviously, which is still being worked out.

But it really struck me. When in school we discussed librarianship as, historically, work taken on by women, and the cultural and labour issues because of that history, I never thought it could be so blatant.  I’m no expert, but I don’t think you have to take HR 101 to know that none of those ideas are appropriate, and likely wouldn’t have been broached in any other municipal department, especially those that are still male-dominated.

Very soon, I promise, I’ll be back to posting about things I’ve read, not what I’m reading them on. But I had to share this:


Books I could remove thanks to Kobo:

Shelf space regained:

(Yes, that’s still my Christmas tree. It’s coming down today.)



January 7, 2011

I really, really like the experience of reading on my Kobo.


Dishonourable discharge from the community of readers, here I come.

Books and stuffiness

January 6, 2011

Kobo is here! I work till 8:30…I’m trying to decide if there’s any way I can take it along with me to play and pretend it’s for work.

While I was at the Chapters I picked up two of the Paddywax “Library” candles I’ve been looking at…They make scents evocative of authors: Poe, Whitman, Thoreau, Austen. I went straight for the Austen, took a sniff, and put it back down. It was flowery and stuffy: two things lots of people think about Austen that couldn’t be further from the truth. If I were doing it, Austen’s scent would have some floweriness, but it would also have the scent of fresh air, long grass…

Kobo comes preloaded with Pride and Prejudice, too 🙂


January 6, 2011

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

Good day.

January 5, 2011

Odd, sometimes, the things that go into a good day, hunh?

-I got official husband permission to buy an e-reader tomorrow.

-I enjoy my job and the people I work with.

-I had a nice hearty dinner.

-I had a lovely walk home, still with some sun, and my new longjohns on so my legs weren’t cold. Also, I was listening to David Sedaris’ Squirrel Meets Chipmunk, which is hilarious and should be bought by everyone.

And this on what started as a lonely day.