Monday, June 28, 2010

New books, New Orleans edition

It's too late for a blog post, but if I at least get it started now (Saturday), maybe I can finish and post it tomorrow. I got carried away by bookstores in New Orleans, and bought seven books -- though in my defense, all were used books, and not necessarily cheap but reasonably priced. I found a number of other titles that tempted me, including a first edition of The Injured Party by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, which was ten dollars at Crescent City Books, but I just couldn't bring myself to buy it since I already have it in hardcover and in a worn and well-loved mass market paperback edition. Seeing SFS books is always bittersweet: on one hand, I'm glad she's out there for people to find, and on the other hand, I feel like I should be buying them because so few people know of her and read her books -- like I need to "rescue" the book, and save it from languishing for however many additional months/years on the shelf, unknown and unloved.

But anyway, back to the bookstores I haunted and the books I did buy. I was so glad one of my librarian friends from DC, Amanda, had a couple of free hours between commitments and wanted to go with me to check out one or two of the stores. This was on Monday of SLA week, about June 14th. We went to Crescent City Books first, but the owner said he'd be open until 8 or 9pm, while Beckham's Bookshop, only a block or two away, was closing at 5pm. So we went to Beckham's for 20 to 30 minutes, until it closed, and if I go back to New Orleans someday, I'll set aside a much longer chunk of time to browse there. They had wi-fi -- I just had to ask for the password -- so I pulled up my LibraryThing wishlist to see what I could find. Unfortunately, I didn't find any of those titles in the time I had, but confirmed that I didn't already have a copy of The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch, so I bought that.

5pm, back to Crescent City Books, though Amanda and I were both getting hungry and thinking of dinner, and she had tentative dinner plans with a few of our other colleagues. While we were in Crescent City, a thunderstorm moved in -- the lightning and thunder even scarier on the second floor, where I was browsing, and Amanda was soon reading and resting on the sofa pictured at the bottom of this page. (I eventually sat down too; the storm kept us there longer than we'd planned.) The owner of Crescent City Books kept his store open later than usual, having heard librarians were in town, and not only was he appreciative when I brought him two books that were mis-shelved, he offered us glasses of wine, since we were there for the conference. He was awesome, his store is wonderful, and I highly recommend stopping by there. (Also, please check if the Susan Fromberg Schaeffer novel is still there, and if it is, please consider buying it!) Yes, I bought three books there, all poetry: Walking to Martha's Vineyard by Franz Wright (which I'd read before, very very good), All the Poems of Muriel Spark, and Station Island by Seamus Heaney.

I already mentioned my Wednesday evening trip to Dauphine Street Books in my previous post. Since I didn't take any pictures of the bookstores myself, I searched for photos of the inside of this one. I found a couple that show just how packed with books this place is. See this one from Flickr member vegetablesandwiches, and a few Picasaweb pix from user trustcate: here, and here, and then here. That last photo in particular will explain why I was thinking about my weight problems while I browsed this store. Seriously, the aisles were too narrow for two people to stand back to back and browse, and I'm really glad the store's owner has a slender build. In addition to the Lydia Davis collection Almost No Memory, I bought Surfacing by Margaret Atwood, and a novel called Hell by Kathryn Davis.

Since I had a good number of new books, I decided to take a book stack photo to include here. The three other books in the photo are ones I bought at Hastings a few days before I went to New Orleans. As usual, I got carried away, but also predictably, I didn't pay full price. The mammoth-size book on the bottom is The Passage by Justin Cronin, which I bought the day it came out for two reasons: once in a great while, I desperately want to own and read a book that's new and "hot," and my curiosity got the better of me on this one and I caved; however, I caved to the tune of $13.50, half off the list price of $27.00, and that amazing new release price for a book this size is the second reason I bought it. I really do hope to read it by the end of the summer. The other two were gently used books about books and reading, found in the bargain shelves for $2.99 each: How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen, and Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore by Suzanne Strempek Shea.

It is late June, and the annual Friends of TSCPL book sale is in September, less than three months away. No more book buying bonanzas until September!

It is also late Monday evening, now, and I need to look this over and get it posted, make more preparations for our trip to Worlds of Fun tomorrow, and hope we can all get a decent amount of sleep before our busy day. Night, readers. ;-)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Every Southern belle is a Mississippi queen..."

When I was about 19 – nearly so, or just-turned 19 – I went with my roommate Janis to New York City for the first time. We drove to Connecticut, and then took a train into the city. I still remember stepping out of Grand Central Station and onto the sidewalk, and into that feeling of being in a city that was completely alive. It was one of those amazing, “Look out, world, I’m ready for anything!” kinds of feelings.

I spent most of last week in New Orleans, for the Special Libraries Association annual conference (Sunday through Wednesday), and the second annual National Transportation Knowledge Network (NTKN) meeting (Thursday). I had a hard time sleeping most every night, yet I rarely felt tired during the day. It seemed that I’d fallen under the city’s spell without realizing it. In New York, half my lifetime ago, I was charged up and ready to experience “the city that never sleeps.” In New Orleans, I wasn’t thinking of anything extraordinary, just hoping for safe travel, an informative conference, and some time to catch up with librarian friends and colleagues. (Well, I also hoped to visit at least one bookstore, since I hadn’t gotten to any on my first Louisiana trip, to Baton Rouge in October 2008.)

It was during my relaxing, on-my-own Wednesday evening that I realized I’d been “infected.” Back in my hotel room after the SLA Closing General Session, trying to decide where to have dinner and what else to do, I called Dauphine Street Books to find out how late they were open. I walked over there and was able to browse for about half an hour –- after simply staring around me for the first couple minutes, overwhelmed with the volume of books in the place. I ended up buying three books, including one that had been on my wish list for about two years, Almost No Memory by Lydia Davis. I’ll save the details of my New Orleans book buying spree for another post, but I’ll say here that I left Dauphine Street Books a very happy camper.

I didn’t realize until early Wednesday afternoon that there was an IHOP only a block from my hotel. Basically every time I left the hotel, I went south toward the Marriott, to get the shuttle to the Convention Center. Riding in the taxi on Wednesday, after a relaxing morning in my hotel room, I actually looked at things around me, instead of just checking my schedule or stressing about running late. I noticed the IHOP before the taxi made the U-turn to go south. I thought of how something soft like pancakes would be wonderful and satisfying, after several days of eating foods that were hard on my still-sore mouth, and tiring my jaw. (It had been four weeks since I’d gotten my wisdom teeth pulled, and yes, I could tell that things still weren’t quite right.) IHOP was right near the corner of Dauphine and Canal, and I happily got a table for one. I glanced at my three new books, but spent most of my time skimming my copy of NCHRP Report 643, Implementing Transportation Knowledge Networks, and marking the passages I liked.

I think I heard some of the music from outside while I was inside eating, but now, a week later, I’m not sure if I’m recalling it correctly. Once outside, I couldn’t help hearing it – very loud, and right there on the corner of Canal and Bourbon Street, between IHOP and my hotel. I stopped to watch and listen with a crowd of dozens of other people, including a good number dancing. There were no voices, just an incessant, irresistible beat, and horns and saxophones breathing pure elation. I stood there about five minutes, soaking it in. And then the players started to sing – or to chant – something like, “If you don’t worry ‘bout me / Then I won’t worry ‘bout you,” and then, “If you don’t f*** with me / Then I won’t f*** with you.” Yup, it still sounded great to me!

Soon, I crossed Bourbon Street and headed toward my hotel. I felt a dopey smile on my face, following an evening of new books, a satisfying (and reasonably priced) supper, and a small sea of incredible music.

I’ve since learned, searching YouTube, that the musicians I heard are called the To Be Continued (or TBC) Brass Band. Tonight, I found part of that same performance, from the evening of June 16, posted on YouTube. It’s fairly short, less than three minutes, and includes the vocals – and that’s great, I like them! – but I wish it were longer, with a couple more minutes of music before the singing. I’m a wordy person, I love lyrics, but it was the beat and rhythm that kept me standing there, hypnotized, before any word was sung.

I stopped in a souvenir and music store in the airport, before getting my plane on Thursday. I looked through the CDs, and wanted to ask the cashier who was singing overhead, but she was talking on the phone the whole time I was in there. I remembered how much my dad loved jazz, and wished I could tell him about the music of New Orleans. When I was young, I enjoyed some of my parents’ music, but I hadn’t warmed to jazz, I didn’t hear it very often. “Da, the airport is named after Louis Armstrong, and music is the spirit of the city. You would have loved this place.”

(To learn more about why the TBC Brass Band was swearing in this performance, read this piece.)