Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Books Saved My Life

(It's been a while since I've written something here, so I thought I'd take up again with a post about how important books are to me.)

"Books saved my life." Well, maybe not literally. I've never been one to give up on life completely; I'm much too stubborn for that, as well as too curious about what lies around the corner. But books have helped me over some really tough spots.

When I was in 3rd grade, and in a new school, the Scholastic Book Club saved my life with the first book I chose on my own: Child of the Silent Night, a biography of Laura Bridgman. Later, in 4th grade, our classroom teacher had a stash of books in the back of the room: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Twenty-One Balloons, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I borrowed them from her, and after school let out for the summer, I missed them so much that I asked my parents to buy them for me. I can't guess how many times I read them, but there are still parts of them, and illustrations, that I remember four decades later.

When, as an adult, I moved to two wildly different cities within two years, and felt lonely and afraid in the midst of a gloomy Southern winter, I picked up the Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries my sister had given me the year before, which I had put aside for later. There couldn't have been a series more tailor-made to cure my ills. I had long been a fan of detective fiction: I had a bunch of Encyclopedia Brown books, which I read over and over, despite knowing how each case was solved. Now here was Lord Peter, a bon vivant, but also not a stranger to the slough of despond, and (later) his lady friend, Harriet Vane, who blended the worlds of academia and detection and romance into the perfect medicine for what was ailing me.

Years later, sinking in the depths of marriage problems, I bought Whittaker Chambers' Witness. The beauty of books is that they create relationships between you and the most unlikely characters. On the surface, an ex-Soviet agent from Maryland (a Quaker) and a stay-at-home mom in Louisiana (a Catholic), one now dead and the other desparingly alive, wouldn't have much in common. But Chambers' story of his break with Communism and his rise as a writer ("In 1937, I began, like Lazarus, the impossible return") gave me hope that I might do the same, albeit in a different time and place and circumstance.

The past few years have been very busy, and promise to be busier, but I again turn to books as a respite ... from exhaustion, from loneliness, from disappointment, and sometimes just as a way to travel to a different place and meet new people. Books hold the promise to save my life, if only metaphorically, again and again. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Libraries: Inside, Outside, Upside Down?

(With apologies to those bears.) I was reading Lorcan Dempsey's blog and found something valuable -- as usual -- in the archives from about a year ago about discoverability in libraries.  I'm so interested in this topic, and I need to make time to go back and read more of what he's written. For now, some money quotes:

It is not enough simply to make resources available on the network; more active promotion is required if they are to be discovered.

If I want to know if a particular book exists I may look in Google Book Search or in Amazon, or in a social reading site, in a library aggregation like Worldcat, and so on. My options have multiplied and the breadth of interest of the local gateway [i.e., library] is diminished: it provides access only to a part of what I am potentially interested in.

... the institution is also a producer of a range of information resources  How effectively to disclose this material is of growing interest across libraries or across the institutions of which the library is a part.

His most recent post is an update on the above (and of course I'm skipping over updates in-between). I think his approach is so important, namely because he's bringing a scholarly, methodical viewpoint to assessing the state of libraries today. There's a statement of the current climate, the problems, and possible solutions. For instance, in speaking about the "decentered library":

Libraries don't have a holistic view of traffic against their entire network presence. The difficulty of compiling statistics across services is well known. Libraries are working across multiple environments and systems, with intermittent availability of good data about usage, no consistent approach across systems, and usually no aggregate view. This means that the library's knowledge of the use of its own services, and of the benefits of particular approaches, is limited in important ways. At the same time, while there is awareness of the benefits of better data, a data-driven approach to engagement, resource allocation, or service development is not yet prevalent.  

That last sentence might qualify as understatement of the year (make that the decade) for libraries. While the difficulties of gathering such data are apparent, the project shouldn't be impossible. This is just one of the many areas I wish the ALA were allocating resources toward, instead of pursuing their "Yay, libraries!" campaign. There is an urgent need for analysis of library search and usage data, and if the Pew Research Center can tell us about library usage (albeit in a very different way than that mentioned above), certainly someone in the library community could find the means to gather the data we desperately need.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tweets for the Week

The Freelance Librarian Weekly is now available.


The other day I taught a class session on Pinterest for our cosmetology students at the school. The idea was that students could post pictures of their work on Pinterest and create an online portfolio for potential employers to view. Well, many of the students were already veteran users of the site, and they taught me a thing or two. It was a very enjoyable class, with lots of participation. Some students said they use the site daily. I had created an account and had done some pinning when the site was new, but hadn't really used it much since then.

Preparing for the class got me thinking about other ways I could use Pinterest. Every so often I begin anew my quest for the perfect (free) web-based organizer, but I still haven't found one. All sites seem to have a fatal flaw, and very few systems can truly organize everything. By everything I mean my schedule, tasks, images, favorite sites, articles to read, RSS feeds, and a few hundred other things. Well, Pinterest certainly isn't the answer, but I might just use it to manage a a couple of things on my wish list.

I've long wanted to keep a list of books I'd like to read. I'm a huge fan of LibraryThing as a quick way to create a catalog of books, but I never could seem to maintain my reading list there. I'm not sure why, but it always seemed a little too time-consuming as a quick way to add things. Now I'm trying Pinterest. I pin the book's page from Amazon and add it to my list. The Pin It extension for Chrome makes it easy to pin pages right from my browser.

I wanted a way to save the sites for webinars I plan to view or participate in. I was always emailing myself the links. Now I've pinned them to my Webinar board. The image is often generic to the webinar's sponsoring site, but so far the specific URL has been saved. I've really wanted a way to save articles to read later, and Pinterest sometimes works for this, but not always. I know, I know, there are other sites out there that do this. I just can't seem to devote the miniscule time needed to keep up with them. I'm not sure I'll keep up with Pinterest, either. (sigh)

The downsides to Pinterest? 1) You can only keep three private boards at one time. I'd really like it sometimes if all of my boards were private. You can keep your profile out of Google search results, but that's about it. I'm not entirely comfortable sharing my tastes in fashion, home decorating, food, books, and music with the rest of the world. 2) The site can be a huge time-suck. Even our dedicated cosmetology-student Pinners admitted that there were a lot of ideas they found on the site (for hairstyles, nails, makeup, or even crafts) that they never used. So beware.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

More Reading

I found out early this morning that one of my favorite blogs, Dial M for Musicology, is back -- and has been since the end of June! One of the authors, Phil Ford, was kind enough to reply to one of my old Tweets about how much I missed the blog, and let me know of its revival. And I see that I've missed some posts on one of my other favorite blogs, Think Denk, by pianist Jeremy Denk. The last post I read was in February. With bloggers like Denk who post infrequently, and whom I really love to read, I go through a frustrating cycle. I read something, then check back every few days for another post. Nothing. Eventually disappointment overtakes me and I give up. So I've taken to enforced periods of abstinence, so that when I visit, something's there. Now I just wish I had time to read everything!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013 Reading ... and One Really Good Book

I'm not going to spend a lot of time here on the blog discussing what I read in 2013. You can see the list on the right sidebar (for now; eventually the 2014 books will be up.) My reading doesn't follow much of a pattern, except that I don't have much time to read. The audio books are what I listen to on my weekly commute. I borrowed more audio books from the library than what you see listed here, but if they're boring or just don't catch my interest, I return them quickly. I do the same with printed books. So to say that any of these books was my favorite would be misleading: the list was already culled before it appeared here. I tend to favor biographies and non-fiction, with a dose of humor thrown in to keep things interesting. Of course, my reading is limited to what I can borrow, although a few of these are ones I've purchased. I finally finished The Pale King. It's a long book, and I read it in stops and starts. I like to think of it as the Moby Dick of the IRS. I love David Foster Wallace's writing, but as with almost all authors, I prefer his essays to his fiction. And of course, this was a posthumous book anyway.

Some other notes: My enjoyment of Philip Roth's writing has only increased over the years. I was talking with a friend earlier this fall about favorite writers, and we both mentioned Roth, and the look on his face when recalling "Goodbye, Columbus" somehow summed up the Roth experience for me.  (And I like "The Conversion of the Jews" in that collection even more.) Of course, there's much I haven't read, but every time I read something by him (or in this case, listen to something), I enjoy it. Yes, for those whom it bothers, there's a lot of sex. But I sometimes think that because it's so over-the-top, it almost ceases to be offensive. And the reading on the audio books was quite good. There's an old interview with Roth in the Paris Review online here that I have to make time to read. Relatedly, I'd read little or no Updike (memory fails here), so I tried the only audio book of his the library had. Some of it I liked, but some felt dry and repetitive. Perhaps the short-story collection wasn't his best work. I might make him an author to read in 2014.

I love biographies, so there are quite a few on my list. And of course concentration camp books are one of my favorite genres. (You can see I'm a niche audience.) Plus some self-help and a little humor. I especially liked Steve Martin's autobiography. He is such a thoughtful person, and while there was humor in it, much of it was a very serious reflection on his life. Nothing beats a well-read, educated comedian.

Finally, my favorite book of the year is one I haven't finished yet -- Magic Search: Getting the Best Results from Your Catalog and Beyond (Kornegay, Buchanan, Morgan). The real subtitle is at the top of the cover: "Subdivide and conquer with LC subdivisions!" This slim book (under 150 pages) lists the best Library of Congress subdivisions to use for various subject searches in library catalogs. It's geared toward reference librarians, but it's also helpful for catalogers. Since I do both, I'm working my way through the book a little at a time, taking notes. The book has too much information to do a quick read-through. This is one book that will definitely stay in my collection of librarian tools and one that I will refer to many times. Highly recommended!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Late Night Practicing

It's almost 11 PM on the coldest night in decades, and I'm up due to a minor family emergency. I'm too tired for housework, and my headache-filled brain can't handle the paper work I need to do, so I've decided to practice. Because a little Bach never hurt anyone, even someone who's too tired to think.

More than Bach, actually, but that's what I started with. Most of this is organ music, but it's too cold and too late to practice at the church, so I'm omitting pedals for now. "Something is better than nothing," as I always tell myself. At least I can learn the manuals parts.

I decided to learn a few short Bach pieces for Lent and Easter. I've begun "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" from the Orgelbuechlein. The tune is one of my favorites. It's short but could be used effectively as a small prelude along with the chorale, or as an offertory. I spent quite a bit of time on that, working on fingering. Then I also hope to learn "Wer Nur den Lieben Gott Laesst Walten", the transcription that's in the Schuebler Chorals. I played through a bit of that. Then for a change of pace, I read through "Prelude on the Passion Chorale" by the Dutch composer and organist Piet Kee. I don't know where I got the music (obviously someone gave it to me), but I really like it and want to learn it. I'm not sure how such contemporary music will go over with the congregation, though. People tend to chat through my solo pieces, especially preludes (obviously a tribute to my playing), so they'll probably miss the chorale melody and think I'm playing all wrong notes!

Then I realized ... Sunday is coming, and with it the new pastor, and I need to work on that music. So I reviewed "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright", a short arrangement for manuals by Michael Burkhart. I also need to go through my postlude, another short piece, but one that is slow and ponderous, on another of my favorite tunes, King's Lynn. This composition is special to me, because it was written by Christopher Hoyt, the son of some friends, during his study at Oxford.

I guess my grumbling about a late night and interrupted pleasures earlier could be replaced by gratitude for some productive time at the keyboard.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Great Organ Music Project

I'm embarking on a giant project, which I hope I can see through to completion by the end of 2014. The majority of the project involves making a spreadsheet of all the organ music I already have played for church and as well as what I would like to learn, categorized by church season, hymn tune, and level of difficulty. I've barely started, and I'm already at line 123 on the spreadsheet. Here's a snippet:

You can see that I've also listed the dates I played each piece, and of course the book and page number of its location. The idea is that I can more easily identify music that I want to learn this way (those pieces will have no date) as well as quickly locate music based on certain hymn tunes. I like to play music that matches the hymns used in the service when possible and when appropriate. 

I also hope to make binders with copies of music I frequently use for funerals and weddings. This will prevent a lot of hunting through various books. Finally, I would like to cross reference my hymn transpositions and hymnal by hymn tune, so that I can see when a tune is used for more than one hymn. I haven't figured out the most efficient way to do this, though, so that's waiting for now. 

It's only January 2nd, so we'll see if I can make time to do this throughout the year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 Music Wrap-Up

The past year wasn't a very fruitful one, music-wise, until the very end. I did see a locally-produced opera, and went to a few other "cultural" events. I purchased very little (recorded) music, just a few Al Green tracks and that was about it. I did buy more organ music, and learned about half of it, and although it was fairly simple, having some new pieces did add to my repertoire for services. I made a tiny bit of progress reviewing the Bach preludes and fugues I had learned long ago. I don't even recall learning any new ones. My piano's condition worsens all the time, and I'm in the cycle of not wanting to call the tuner because it's embarrassingly out of tune. (My brother-in-law is a tuner/technician, but lives out of town and usually doesn't have time to tune it during his visits.) I did find a quick way to record my playing, by using the voice-memo app on my iPhone. That was helpful for instant assessment during practice, for making recordings for choir members to learn parts, and for attempting to impress friends. But all of these were small accomplishments.

During Advent, though, I made a real effort to practice more. In mid-November I organized all the hymn transpositions and solo pieces I needed for Advent and Christmas. It wasn't perfect, but I worked hard to learn some new things and brush up on old ones. I actually felt pretty relaxed as far as my playing when it was time for Christmas Eve services. That was good, because my schedule was so hectic on so many fronts that I was exhausted and stressed-out otherwise by the time services started.

My musical goals for 2014? Here's a first draft:

1. Get my piano tuned, and possibly repaired.
2. Make a list of music to learn -- easy, medium, and difficult.
3. Organize my music books. (I'm trying to decide whether to go all-digital and scan all my scores and play from an iPad -- which I don't yet own -- or develop a better paper filing system. I don't think the digital system will work for many practical reasons, but I haven't ruled it out altogether.)
4. Maintain a regular practice schedule, even if it's only for a short time each day. I tend to binge-practice, which is never good.
5. Listen to more music.
6. Build a practice organ at home. (This is a dream project, of buying a used pedalboard and wiring it to a MIDI keyboard. Since I have no electrical expertise at all, this will remain a dream.)
7. Getting together with friends to play music. (This might remain a dream as well, but it was inspired by hearing a friend of mine from college, now in Pittsburgh, sing with her band. That evening made me realize how much I missed that musical camaraderie.)

Here's to a better year, musically at least, in 2014.