Behind the camera

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A concrete slab harvested from a demolished city building defends Pershing Park from the frozen Lake Michigan waves. It is large — the size of a small sedan — and surrounded by smaller rubble. Rebar and concrete and ice mix into a violent Jackson Pollack sketch as waves thunder into the shoreline.

The temperature outside is in the single digits — lower with the windchill. In the small sedan, the heater is not working. Or not well. The driver’s toes — numb from the cold — curl and uncurl. The driver is trying to capture an image — a photograph — of the spray from the waves when they hit the shoreline and shoot twenty feet into the air.

The visit to the public library introduced the driver to books by E. L. Doctorow, Wendell Berry and Alberto Manguel and a book on the history of time by Oxford Press. Timing the waves as they advance on the shoreline creates an illusion of distance. Patiently the driver composes a few more images.

The icy air advances deeper into epidermis. Reluctantly the driver places the lens cap on the camera and stows it in a black bag next to the library books.

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Quote: “The air itself is one vast library…”

What a strange chaos is this wide atmosphere we breathe! … The air itself is one vast library, on whose pages are for ever written all that man has ever said or woman whispered. There, in their mutable but unerring characters, mixed with the earliest, as well as the latest sighs of mortality, stand for ever recorded, vows unredeemed, promises unfulfilled, perpetuating in the united movements of each particle, the testimony of man’s changeful will.

—Charles Babbage

A library of Babel concealed in the very air we breathe. (via alphacaeli)

Quote: “Lock up your libraries if you like…”

“Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

Virginia Woolf (via nocureforcuriosity)

How many copies do you need?

20130530-102758.jpg That’s the question I asked myself when I saw four copies of Outliers and three copies of The Tipping Point at the downtown public library. Does the library need that much Malcolm Gladwell? Yet, I can hardly find seven books written by Vonnegut. I was able to locate at least seven books by Hemingway but not all that much on Steinbeck. The experience got me thinking.

Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point is an interesting book, but how will it stand up over the years? It’s a bestseller now, but in 50 years, or 100 years, will it still be impacting readers?

Along a parallel track, will your favorite blogs have the same readership in 50 years? Some of the blogs I used to enjoy reading eight years ago have disappeared from the webosphere a few short years ago and the writer’s voice I looked forward to hearing is no longer there.

But books remain. Whatever their legacy, they have a space, or more, on the bookshelves of a library. At least for now.

A bookless American library

Empty shelves at the downtown city library

Why can’t I find a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five at a local public library? I’m wandering through the aisles of bookshelves thinking, It’s not an obscure title. Is it? Earlier, I visited a couple library branches and couldn’t find a single copy. How is that possible? Later I would find a copy at a bookstore (actually, I would find copies at three of the local bookstores, but I would be out of cash and wouldn’t be able to afford to buy a copy… more on that later… like, wait-for-my-memoir later…).

Is it possible? Are American libraries moving toward booklessness? At the main, downtown city library I stare at a whole wall of bookshelves emptied of books (see photo). Glancing around the place it appears that the only thing people do at that library is use the toilet, enjoy the air conditioned space on hot summer days, and rent CDs and DVDs. The magazine racks are full and there is an man, probably in his 60s, reading the latest copy of the New Yorker. Beyond the reference desk, I see that every computer terminal is occupied. My mood is turning away from searching for a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, to mischievous. I want to walk over to the reference desk librarian and ask, “Where might I find a book about Tralfamadore?” From experience, I know what the reference desk librarian will do. The scene will go something like this:

“Excuse me, but where might I find a book about Tralfamadore?”

“Tralfamadore? Let me see,” he says as he opens a web browser on the computer and sounds out the word tral-fam-a-dore under his breath. “Oh, Tralfamadore. From Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five.”

“Did you just google that?” I ask.

He looks at me and doesn’t say anything.

“Shouldn’t that be unholy sacrilege to use Google in a library?” I ask. “I mean, this is supposed to be a house of intellect.”

He folds his hands in front of the keyboard and says, “I used Wikipedia.”

“Wikipedia?” I snort.

The reference desk librarian catches the eyes of the library’s security guard who walks toward us.

The scene concludes with me mumbling something about the democratization of content leaves an intellectual void that is too quickly filled with bits of data rather than depth of knowledge and wisdom.

But I don’t walk to the reference desk. I get lost somewhere in the fiction aisles–somewhere in the section where books by authors with last names beginning with “k” are placed. The whole thing–the search for a single copy of a book and the failure to locate it at a public library–is loathsome to me. I have this uneasy feeling ‪that Ray Bradbury’s‬ ‪Fahrenheit 451‬ may be prophetic. And I want to start memorizing large volumes of literature for the mere preservation of it to share with the next generation. Isn’t that why books are written? To share not just with this present age, but to extend beyond the life of the writer? My eye’s find a book about bean trees–or rather, a novel. It’s not a very thick novel, but it seems to have found me and I can’t just leave it on the bookshelf and I don’t want to leave the library empty-handed.

After the book is processed silently by a librarian, I walk to catch a bus home. Reading the first few pages at the transit center I know I have found a new friend in this book. It’s a feeling I can’t say I have regarding Google or Wikipedia. To me, they are repositories of data–vapid of personality in the same fashion as the  Borg–to be mined or to be assimilated.

Three ways for authors to promote their new book

This is obvious, but essential. Connecting with a local bookseller is vital to promoting your book. Most booksellers see your book title listed in their wholesale catalogs. All you need to do is remind them it’s there and then see if they’ll host an event. Be sure to contact the bookstore’s event coordinator, not the store’s book buyer. The PR  & Events Coordinator schedules store events like readings and book signings and is the best point of contact for a newly published author.

Consider non-bookstore venues. Schools, public libraries, or other venues may have suitable audiences for your book title. Don’t just assume that your audience only buys books at Barnes & Noble. Libraries are great places to read. I’ve read in various locations including a tavern, café, ballroom, art studio, church and several other places. One author I know had a reading at a chocolate shop. Be creative with your events.

Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. are great tools to promote your book. If you don’t have an account, you’re already behind. Be authentic and approachable on these sites. If you sound like you’re a pushy salesperson, you’ll lose your audience. Share with your social media audience the same way you approach your book reading audience. Make converts from social media followers to book buyers.

Choose Your Own Adventure at the library.

Paradise… a library