At Home He's a Tourist

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

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Still attempting to get a life in west Texas. On Friday night K. from work came over and we played a shoot-'em up game on the PS2. I'm grateful for the company, but it seems I'm either going to fish fry nights with fifty-year olds or playing video games with a guy barely of legal drinking age. Speaking of which, I made us a couple of gin-and-tonics and he said "Hmm, it tastes like Sprite, but there's some other flavor in there I really don't like." I then poured him some straight gin and said "Try this. If you don't like it then that bad taste is probably the gin." He took a sip and spewed it out into the kitchen sink. I finished the remainder of his shot as well as both our gin and tonics, which was not helpful for the ol' video game reflexes. Afterwards we watched "Princess Mononoke," an Anime environmentalist fable about a rapacious iron town literally in warfare against nature.

Today was warm and clear. I drove to Lubbock, per usual. The first stop was one of the surprisingly good wineries in the area. I took a brief tour of the facilities, which were modest but spotless, and bought a $12 Merlot which I am enjoying right now. Then I went to the Buddy Holly Center in the "Depot District" near the Texas Tech campus. Holly is Lubbock's most famous son, and by chance I happen to come on the weekend that the museum was commemorating "the day the music died." On February 3, 1959, an airplane crash killed three rock stars: Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper. (Cf. the song "American Pie.") Admission was free and a rock historian gave a tour of the exhibits, sharing some interesting stories along the way. For instance, the distinctively geeky, black plastic glasses arose out of necessity. In line with the pop culture of the times, Holly preferred not wearing glasses while performing, but his eyesight was so bad that when he dropped a guitar pick he groped around the stage floor unable to retrieve it. One of the Everly Brothers advised him, "If you've got to wear glasses, make them unique," and an icon was made. Elton John, whose flamboyant spectacles were inspired by Holly's example, donated a pair of his own to the museum. Holly also influenced Lennon and McCartney; they said their first fifty songs were imitations of Holly tunes, and they gave their band an entomological name in homage to Holly and his backup band, The Crickets. Actually I'm not crazy about Holly, but I do think "Peggy Sue" is pretty cool for the galloping drum track and the nifty chord change from G to Eb.

Then I browsed some of the used book stores on 34th street. They were pretty good but nothing was either interesting enough or cheap enough to warrant a purchase. Finally, I wrapped up my Lubbock excursion with dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant, where I ate fried tofu and vegetables while watching CNN coverage of the Columbia crash.

I suppose I'll attend one of the town's many Baptist churches tomorrow morning, although I'm not necessarily looking forward to it.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

A librarian-friend in Michigan and my supervisor both independently brought my attention to an article in the January 2003 issue of C&RL: "Circulation as Assessment: Collection Development Policies Evaluated in Terms of Circulation at a Small Academic Library," by Debbie Dinkins of Stetson University. She quotes an earlier study which found that practically every small academic library involved in the survey depended heavily on faculty requests for collection development. Sounds familiar to me. The problem, according to this earlier study, is that "By definition and by tradition, the faculty are research specialists. Their primary loyalty is often to a profession rather than to the institution. The library, however, must assemble collections that serve narrow subdisciplines as well as the multidisciplinary needs of the community as a whole. Thus, the scope of faculty interests does not necessarily match those of the library." I need to circle those sentences and send the article over to the religion department. Dinkins' study at Stetson compared circulation figures for books selected by faculty with figures for books selected by librarians in five disciplines. In art the faculty did better, in English the race was neck-and-neck, but the librarians did significantly better in history, music, and political science. As much as I like her conclusion that librarians should have more influence in the selection process, I have to admit that heavy circulation is not the only consideration; for instance, a religion professor who requests, say, Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua, is right to do so (assuming the library for some reason doesn't already have a copy), even if a librarian driven by circ stats might choose The Prayer of Jabez instead.

Some bad news: the state grant which funds the majority of our databases has been frozen. My supervisor is meeting with the president of the college, in the hope that we can get a budget increase to make up the difference.

I'm reading a collection of Cordwainer Smith's science fiction stories. Set in the indefinite future, they focus on the dangers faced by the elite cadre who work the space-flight technology everyone else takes for granted. The fact that Smith, a.k.a. Paul Linebarger, was a U.S. Army colonel during WWII probably has something to do with this choice of theme. I think one of my readers probably has some insightful things to say about Smith; perhaps he will use the comments function to do so.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Biased book reviewing, continued: Looking through Publisher's Weekly "Forecasts" section, I noticed that some of the bylines for reviews were signed "Agent [So-and-So]." Further investigation confirmed that indeed these are the agents promoting the books being reviewed. Not exactly an objective evaluation, I'd say, although at least PW has the honesty to identify the source. However, I've seen these same reviews quoted on without such disclaimers, so in the future I should probably double-check the blurbs in their original context. I don't know who the other PW reviewers are: academics, librarians, publishers?

One of these days I'm going to make this blog live up to its name and actually talk about books. I promise!

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Odds and ends at work today. I checked the prices of the religion department's requests on vendor and publisher web sites; contacted Baker and Taylor about their binding options for paperbacks; sold some transparencies to a student; filled out an application form for Library Journal reviewing; read The Chronicle of Higher Education; dealt with an overdue notice from a CD club; and sat at the reference desk. I also spent a half hour talking about poster art with a coworker; not a very productive use of time, although it is an improvement over yesterday, when I spent an hour in a conversation on anime with student workers. (One of them is going to loan me Princess Mononoke, which I've been waiting a long time to see.) The non-librarian staff are not afraid to pursue their own interests while on the job. The acquisitions clerk reads romance novels and browses crafts catalogs; the cataloguer will surf the net and talk to her boyfriend on the phone; the computer technician likes to come downstairs and banter with the aforementioned personnel. To an extent socializing is good in maintaining a friendly atmosphere; I just want to avoid getting sucked into a conversation that eats away the entire morning or afternoon.

That application form for reviewing in Library Journal asked the following question: "If you are interested in reviewing books in politics, philosophy, or religion, please describe your beliefs." I answered the question, but it shouldn't have been asked in the first place. At best LJ will use the question to avoid sending me books to review which contradict my opinions, an insult to the intellectual integrity of all those with political, philosophical, or religious beliefs--why are art historians or literary critics more immune to bias? At worst, they will reject my application altogether because I am a conservative Christian.

Darn it but this is a clever blog.

Monday, January 27, 2003

I applied to Choice and Library Journal for review work. I thought this would be an excellent way to keep up with my academic interests while contributing to librarianship and adding points to my resumé, not to mention getting advanced copies of books. But their guidelines state that, except for reference work reviewing, active subject specialists are preferred, so I may not have much of a chance.

I guess where there's money being spent, there are salespeople. (Insert parasite metaphor here.) I've been getting calls from publishers urging me to buy or view on trial their latest reference books, and today I was visited in person by a children's literature vendor who wanted to show me his wares. I said I would consult the education faculty and get back to him, but this was a dodge; I didn't want to waste the time. Now, if he were to take me out to lunch in Lubbock...

Insight Media wrote back and confirmed that their "Voyage Through the Bible" is the same item we already have. Savings: $260!

Y'all gotta try some of this beer if you can find it. I really enjoyed their "1554 Brussels Black Ale," the recipe for which the brewers discovered in a musty old manual in Europe, they say.

Martinis are nice, but I'm starting to wonder why I water down perfectly good gin with vermouth.

After having attended Mass on Sunday, I thought I would try to analyze the recurring attraction I have for Roman Catholicism. I think part of it is the "not just" factor, which adds the thrill of the supernatural to aspects of religion which in Protestantism are more mundane. In Roman Catholicism the priest is not just a preacher and administrator, but is ontologically distinct from the laity and has unique powers; the Eucharist is not just a symbol of union but the actual presence of Christ; the other sacraments are not just ceremonies but quasi-magical actions conveying grace; the church is not just a gathering of believers but is the one Body of Christ gifted with doctrinal infallibility; etc. Then there are more extraneous attractions, such as the artistic achievements of Catholics or the winsome lives of some Catholic saints.

What I don't like about Catholicism is the legalism: the holy days of obligation and the mandatory fasts and the indexes of forbidden books and the nitpicky obstacles to marriage and so on, the sort of thing St. Paul says Christians have outgrown. Anglicanism is nice in that it has some of the Catholic sacramental cast without the legalism, but it is also in decline right now.

Happy birthday Mozart! Your music is boring, though; here's a theological explanation why:

    It is true that Classicism stands for order, poise, and temperate restraint--for the control of individual fancy and vision in the interests of harmony and reason. But the artistic order and harmony for which Classicism stands presupose the possibility of achieving a stability and perfection at the terrestrial level which the Christian regards as impossible of atttainment within the finite. The Classical spirit in art proclaims by implication that man can achieve on earth representations of beauty and harmony which are wholly satisfying to him. The Classical spirit in music, art, architecture, and literature, is represented in the supposed attainment of forms whose beauty is a completeness, a completeness which offers serenity and satisfaction to the soul of man.

    The Romantic principle is far different. It gives rein to individual fantasy and passion to a degree which opens the door to lawlessness, intemperance, and disorder. But the door which opens to lawlessness, intemperance, and disorder, offers at the same time a clear path to the exploration of limitless yearning and aspiration. In opening this door, Romanticism virtually proclaims that there is no final and complete satisfaction for man within the finite. The rejection of the Classical spirit is the rejection of the possibility of achieving stability and perfection at the terrestrial level. The assertion of Romanticism is that man's profoundest yearnings and aspirations break beyond the bounds of any principle of order or harmony that can be fully manifested within the finite...And this, of course, is the Christian view. (Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind.)

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Happy birthday to me!

I just got back from Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe. I figured that, with such a name, the church would have a large Hispanic constituency; but I didn't expect to be the only gringo in the place. Nor was I forewarned that the Mass would be entirely in Spanish. Reminds me of the time I walked into a Catholic church in Taiwan and saw hundreds of Filipino heads swivel and stare in my direction. Apparently there are more white folk in Texas than in Taiwan, though, so I didn't receive undue attention; and since I know more Spanish than Tagalog, I could get the gist of the liturgy and homily. The sanctuary was a bland Vatican II box with stained glass windows as abstract as those in a Presbyterian church and movable cushioned seats instead of pews. I did like the fact that the large room was packed, literally standing room only, with worshipers of all ages. A folk combo--guitar, bass, accordion--supplied ethnic music; it was interesting to hear the Te Deum done in norteña style. One thing I usually don't like about visiting Catholic masses is the feeling of self-consciousness I get sitting alone while everyone else is receiving Communion, but for whatever reason the people around me didn't partake either. I wonder if that is some stubborn residue of the Middle Ages when the laity only received once or twice a year.

That brings on another reminiscence. When I was teaching at a Catholic college in Minnesota I liked to attend campus Mass during the week. A very pious and conservative student who also attended finally asked why I never took the Eucharist. When I explained that I was Episcopalian, she apologized for harboring "uncharitable assumptions" about me. I didn't inquire further, but apparently she though I didn't receive because I couldn't make it even a day without falling into mortal sin.

Yesterday was kind of a bust. Instead of getting out of town to find something to do, I decided to stay here and go furniture shopping. The retail stores didn't have anything I liked; it was all too middle-class Southern, big overstuffed sofas with floral upholstery and that sort of thing. On the other hand, the antiques stores (which are surprisingly good) were too expensive: I saw one china cabinet from 19th century France going for $12,000.

That evening I watched The Last Picture Show, which came in the mail that afternoon. Can some smart person out there in cyberspace explain what is so great about that movie? Not that I didn't enjoy it, but I didn't think it had the stuff of a classic.

I wonder how long it will be before the novelty of blogs will wear off? I've been spending a lot of time writing in mine and reading others'. I did decide that I either need to get a life or get DSL.