At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

"One advantage to being an introvert is that people will feel free to share juicy gossip with you and not have to worry that you'll blab." I don't actually know if that's true or not, but such is the thought that occurred to me on Thursday night when coworker A--who, after all, has only known me a few weeks--let me in on a top-secret scandal regarding mutual acquaintance B. Learning this bit of information also reinforced two other beliefs which, although obviously true, I seem to keep forgetting. First, that envy, besides being a failure of caritas, is also often a symptom of ignorance. For various reasons I was jealous of B, but now that I know how costly this incident could prove to be I don't envy him at all. Second, B's piety forces on me once again the realization that religiosity is an unreliable guarantor of virtue--a lesson that thirteen years in religious schools should have taught me by now.

I should keep in mind, though, that I'm only getting one side of the story.

Something is fishy here. That picture is too good to be true; and then there are out of place references to Seattle, Ikea, and sushi. It seems like a set up for one of those Russian mail-order bride scams.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Spent today working through the religion department's latest set of requests, which, if I were to purchase all of them, would put their budget about $2,500 in the red. My supervisor said, "They'd spend the library's entire budget if we let them." It is obvious that as soon as they get their hands on a catalog from Eerdman's, Baker, Fortress, etc., they casually circle everything that looks mildly interesting; oftentimes we already have the item on the shelf or on order. This is why we need to give collection development librarians power! The sad irony is that I have plenty of money to spend on subjects I'm not interested in (business, education, science).

Here's an interesting bibliographic problem. One of the requests was for a two CD-ROM set called "Voyage Through the Bible," produced in 1996. The item was listed in the Insight Media catalog with a brief description of its contents. Checking our OPAC, I noticed that we had a 2 CD-ROM set called "Charlton Heston's Voyage Through the Bible," also produced in 1996. I got the item and found that the description on the package sounded similar to the blurb in the Insight Media catalog. However, I can't be sure. Our item was produced by Jones Digital Century; the Insight catalog doesn't say who produced their item, nor does it give anything like an ISBN number. About $250 hinges on this problem. I tried WorldCat but only found the same item we already have. I emailed Insight but haven't received a response. Perhaps one of the listservs I subscribe to can help.

The latest Netflix movie I saw was another French import, Harry, un ami qui vous veut bien. Although it's about a psychopathic murderer, it was very low-key; I guess the French don't like American gaucheries like suspenseful soundtracks or the expression of emotion. But it was a good diversion. I just finished a terrific book of film essays by Larry McMurtry and so I decided to rent The Last Picture Show, which, besides the McMurtry connection, is also apropos because it portrays life in small-town Texas.

I was talking church with a psychology professor and he said he had heard that one or more of the Catholic parishes in town have an open communion policy. That's something to think about, at least.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Server problems have prevented me from dialing in and blogging, so I finally decided to stay in during lunch and use the library's computer. I wish I could say that the delay means I have lots of news to catch up on, but life has been uneventful. On the work front, Midwest fortunately agreed to take back the Torah Commentary, although the sales representative did give me a friendly warning about their official 90-day return policy. The religion department continues to send in reams of book requests even though their budget is already drained halfway through the fiscal year. I am becoming more and more aware of the subjectivity of book reviewing. For example, I was interested in a biography of Aldous Huxley which The Atlantic called one of the best literary biographies of the 20th century, but then I found a review in an academic journal of literature which deemed the book a failure. Admittedly, the discrepancy in this case might be partially due to the difference in readership; the academic journal complained that the biography did not spend enough time analyzing Huxley's writings, something which the journal's readers are understandably very interested in compared with readers of The Atlantic. But what about the case of a recent Choice review which called a book in its second printing a classic and took to task the negative Choice review of the first printing? I'm not griping, though; I think learning the biases of various book reviewers and journals will be part of the intellectual challenge which makes collection development one of the more interesting fields in librarianship.

I'm still roaming El Llano Estacado in search of things to do. Saturday I drove an hour to the Palo Duro Canyon, the nation's second largest, and took a long hike through the sage-covered, juniper-dotted gorges. I worked up a sweat and drank the liter of water I packed with me; which, given that it is still January, suggests that I better get my fill of outdoor activities before the summer. In a park restroom I changed into city duds and drove into Amarillo to try a new Latin American restaurant I read about online. It was a tiny, colorful place with good, cheap food. (I was hoping for some Concho Y Toro, the Chilean wine, but apparently this place doesn't have a liquor license.) After dinner I drove west on I-40 into one of those widescreen, Technicolor sunsets I mentioned earlier, until the darkness settled on the immense plains. On the way back to town I stopped by the mall to shop for clothes. Alert readers will remember I just bought a shirt last weekend. With a new job, I felt the need to update my wardrobe; and since the spiritual master St. Francis de Sales writes that "For my part, I would have devout people, whether men or women, always the best dressed in a group," I guess my sartorial expenditures will also serve to further my sanctification.

On Sunday morning I attended services at the larger of our two Methodist congregations. Architecturally this is probably the most impressive church in town, certainly among the ones I have visited. It's a long, tall church in rough-hewn beige brick, with some fairly elaborate stonecutting framing the stained glass windows, a vaulted roof covered with gray slate shingles, and a fancy metal-plated steeple. Inside, the white plaster walls are immaculate, the pews, rafters, and altar are polished oak, and the floor is covered in pristine red carpeting.

However, the service reminded me of why I left Methodism seven years ago: the role of the congregation was almost completely passive. There was no liturgy, no Eucharist, and only a couple of hymns to sing (and these cut down to half the number of verses). Instead, the time was taken up by presentations: a couple of musical performances by the choir, an awards ceremony for the United Methodist Women, a children's sermon, and the main sermon. There wasn't much of theological substance either: the sermon was typical of my experience in Methodism, a string of moralistic admonitions linked by very tangential jokes. In the Episcopalian church we have our share of bad sermons, of course, but at least we get a lot of Scripture: the lectionary calls for readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospels. At the Methodist service we only heard a three-verse snippet of a Psalm. Although I got a free lunch, I don't think I'll go back.