on my shelf
Books, books, books. During my nearly two-hour bus commute to an on-call librarian job, I have my nose in one. While at work, all these children come to me to find their favorite books for them, be they Rainbow Magic Fairy, Secrets of Droon, Geronimo Stilton, Twilight, Magic Schoolbus, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or any number of other titles I haven’t read (but really need to, for the job).
I enjoy getting reader’s advisory requests, that is, when a patron wants me to recommend something like a mystery or a fantasy, with any number of qualifiers (“nothing negative!” “not too long!” “something with technology, like watch-making?”). I enjoy the unpredictability of their reactions to my suggestions– some folks are thrilled, some look at the book like it’s growing mold, some take it kindly and then leave it on a table later.
Lately I’ve been spending some time building a Library Thing account, which lets me make lists of different books by age group, subject category, specific issues represented, etc. Makes it easier to recommend stuff on the fly, and keep a handle on all the good books I see in the library but can’t possibly keep straight in my head.
And I really want to delve into some of this children’s fiction and get familiarized, but currently I have no less than six books that I am actively reading.
One is a goofy children’s nonfiction parody titled Giraffes? Giraffes!, published by McSweeney’s.
Four are food-related: Cookwise by Shirley Corriher, which explores the science of cooking processes and ingredients (think Alton Brown without the corny humor).
Beyond Bok Choy by Ross, which I’m reading to familiarize myself with the various types of Chinese veggies I now have at my disposal in San Francisco.
James Peterson’s Sauces, lent to me by a friend, so that I can improve my sauce-making technique.
Best Food Writing 2008 (ed. Holly Hughes), which is chock full of mouth-watering articles. Read a good one on Szechuan Dan Dan noodles, which I have enjoyed at our favorite nearby restaurant: Spices II: Szechuan Trenz (yes, this restaurant is so badass it needed a subtitle).
But all of these are really just occasional reading, they take a backseat to the 900-page historical novel that has been kicking my eyes’ ass for the past month or so: Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, book one of the Baroque Cycle. I had previously only read Stephenson’s Snowcrash, which deftly managed to communicate BIG and interesting ideas while throwing down an action-packed story of mobsters, teenage skaters, thermonuclear terrorists, and katana-wielding computer hackers. So a good friend gave me Quicksilver, which is a definite shifting of gears for the writer.
I’m almost done with the book, and so far find it to be a pretty absorbing epic tale, spanning the late 1600s and early 1700s and various major shifts going on at the time, such as the Scientific Revolution (birth of scientific method of inquiry?) and Glorious Revolution (death of Catholic-ruled Absolute monarchy in England?). The tale is told through the eyes of three different characters, a Natural Philosopher (scientist), a rowdy vagabond (going mad from syphilis), and a financially precocious woman (ex-harem slave) who becomes a spy and tool used by the nobility of several nations.
The book (just the first of three) contains too much for me to really try and summarize. While it’s engrossing and thought-provoking in the extreme, it’s also frustrating at times, because of Stephenson’s frequent stylistic inconsistencies and flourishes. Now and then I read scenes that seem completely irrelevant and boring, but I never know if they will bear importance somewhere 1500 pages on in the Cycle. But at least I know I’m in the hands of a truly creative author. My gifting friend has instructed me to read Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon next (which apparently ties into descendant characters and themes in the 20th century), and then to move on to the next two books in the Baroque Cycle. As a librarian, it’s fun to hand the reigns over to someone else who will tell me what to read next.