Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Rekindling Library Romance

Working at a bookstore killed my relationship with public libraries. Well, that and college libraries. Seeing fresh releases, and hearing all the positive buzz about big deal books fostered a compulsion called tsundoku; the acquisition of so many books that one has no hope of reading them all. (I do the same thing with PC games, as do many others; a practice my friend Jose suggests we call Steamdoku. I agree. Digression over!) College, in turn, made me associate libraries with doing research or serious work.

So I stopped checking out libraries. But is that really a problem? If I buy so many damn books, why would I go to a library ever again? Well, precisely because I have so little time to read any more. Stick with me.

When I broke up with libraries, I also let myself believe that their selections were hopelessly outdated. I pictured collections consisting of James Pattersons gone by two years and yellow paged paperbacks that have somehow held on since the sixties. Maybe I did it to help justify my buying compulsion. Or maybe that's an accurate assessment of the Pasadena Public Library. I don't know anymore, and it doesn't matter because the Burbank Public Library is freakin' awesome.

There was one category of bookstore purchases that were always out of my budget: audio books. Before you roll your eyes, or rail about how real authors must read on paper to keep notes, keep a couple things in mind. A) I have a full time job. B) working out feels like a waste of time. C) driving feels like a waste of time. Audio books help me fit more fiction into the cracks of my life.

Burbank has a ton titles in audio form. And lots of stuff by authors I would like to read, but never buy, or think to seek out when visiting a Barnes & Noble. This is the real benefit of libraries. Getting books for free is nice, but finding books you would never encounter under other circumstances is really what makes the difference.

Perusing the audio book selection reminded me that I love Joe Hill and I love William Gibson. From Hill, I picked up Heart-Shaped Box. It's a story about an aging rock star with a menagerie of messed up detritus who buys a ghost. It's my workout book, because it is brutal enough to distract me from the task at hand. I mean, this fucking guy. He knows how to hurt characters (and by extension, readers). People drone on and on about how mean GRRM and Joss Whedon and even Jim Butcher (really?) are to their characters because they kill people or beat them up. Bull. Shit. A quick death or cracked ribs are so much kinder than what you can do. Even maiming pales in comparison to the emotional trauma you can inflict with a single brutal line or revelation. That's something Hill borrows from dear old dad, but I greatly prefer his work. His stuff is also more concrete, pairing physical violence with psychological, or using one as a metaphor for the other. He has sharper, darker teeth, and his narratives feel more complete and cohesive. They may be more traditional, but I like his beginnings, middles, and most of all his endings.

On a related note, I finished up Locke & Key, and it is fantastic. I can't think of a comic book series that does a better job of capturing the angst that is 15-18 years old. The finale is great. Again, brutal. Again, fairly traditional, but it will make you genuinely sad, balancing very tender moments with some very sharp sticks, with great heroism interspersed (not so much with the laffs), and most importantly, you will have a sense of closure. Would love to read more short stories and side stories that leverage the universe's concepts, but happy to see Bode, Kinsey, and Tyler's tale come to a satisfying close.

Back to the bounties of the Burbank Public Library, I've picked up The Peripheral from William Gibson to listen to while driving. It's been a long time since I've read anything by him, so I forgot how much of an impression he made on my writing still. This book feels a little more accessible than the super-slangy cyberpunk of his Sprawl trilogy, but it still has that great environmental/conceptual mystery quality that typifies his work. You are thrust in a world, and by about midway through the book, you have a handle on the setting, but you still have to work out all the mysteries of the plot. I highly recommend it to Sci-Fi fans, and already gifted it to one person.

Very strong central premise about communicating between adjacent time streams, but it also focuses on post-humanity, and long-game evolution of telepresence technologies. Think Ghost in the Shell, dialed back a couple notches, with less emphasis on an ephemeral cyberworld, and a deeper examination of being able to inhabit other human bodies. There's also some stuff in their about drones and gaming. Very high concept cocaine.

The library also has a fairly extensive collections of movies, including some new releases you can rent for a dollar. Seeing how Blockbusters are a thing of the past and Redboxes are scratched to hell or have the wrong discs half the time, that's super convenient.

Moral of the story? Do yourself a solid and check out your local public library. You may be pleasantly surprised. If not, you will have restored an old librarian's faith in humanity.

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