Two entertaining books

I’m still not able to write the blog I want to write (Inetbib 2013); life keeps getting in the way, one aspect of which was a fantastic writing workshop I attended in Lincoln City, Oregon, about which I also don’t yet feel capable of writing anything. I’m too blown away by the kindness and the competence I experienced there. Plus I’m trying to practice everything I learned there often enough so I don’t forget it.

However, while at the workshop and in Lincoln City (which deserves to be famous for things other than poor Richard Swanson’s being killed on Highway 101 there), I discovered two wonderful books by Susan J. Kroupa, the first two of her Doodlebugged Mysteries, books she recommends for middle-grade (I would guess ages 9-12) and anyone who likes dogs.

The protagonist, point-of-view character and star of the books is Doodle, a labradoodle (a dog with curly, dark hair and beautiful brown eyes, part labrador and part poodle) who has been trained to sniff out bedbugs. Doodle, favored with a wry intelligence and clear-headed view of human beings, manages to clear up mysteries, repair relationship problems, and solve most of the other problems of his human employers, despite the fact that said humans are woefully incapable of understanding his unambiguous commands. I haven’t met a fictional character in a long time that I enjoyed melding my mind with as much as Doodle. Susan J. Kroupa claims Doodle is inspired by Shadow, her independent labradoodle, but I think I recognized a few human sources of inspiration, at least every time Doodle commented “Just sayin’ …”

Anyway, Book One of what will hopefully be a long and prosperous series, is “Bed-Bugged” in which Doodle, while sniffing out bedbugs, also aids his employer’s 10-year-old daughter in flushing out a gang of art thieves (who were foolish enough to let the paintings become infested with bedbugs). As if that weren’t enough, Doodle also helps the daughter find her long-lost mother and accept a reality that doesn’t entirely match her dreams. Along the way Doodle comments on the inanities and insanities of human behavior.

Book Two more than exceeds the expectations you have after enjoying Book One. In Book One Susan J. Kroupa touches on serious topics of children’s coming to terms with less than perfect home lives, on problems of illegal immigrants, and on problems of single fathers trying to earn a living and do justice to their children’s needs. These problems continue in Book Two, “Out-Sniffed”, but Kroupa, without ever being heavy-handed, now adds problems of bullying, teen-aged drug use, a well-meaning but often helpless police force, and inept pet owners to the mix.

Fortunately, the ten-year-old daughter, with the help of Doodle, still the most intelligent and competent character in the book, manages to solve these problems and Doodle’s employer’s problems with stupid criminals while learning to accept her flawed but loving parents for the complex human beings that they are. “Out-Sniffed” is warmhearted and funny but never superficial. Doodle, of course, as he comments regularly, sees through every situation immediately, while the human beings do their best, fumble, and then get up and try again. Doodle occasionally indulges himself in some gentle sarcasm, but always lets slip at the end how much he cherishes his human companions.

So, I recommend this book highly to anyone who is aged 9-12, who knows someone aged 9-12, who likes dogs, or who might enjoy spending some time in the mind of a highly intelligent labradoodle who remains tolerant of human foibles.

These are both entertaining reads. Do yourself a favor and take the time for them.

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I like Pizza Hut

So far I still haven’t had time to work on my blog about the fantastic Inetbib Conference in Berlin, and various practical constraints (promises made that have to be kept) will probably delay it a few more weeks.

However, I do have time for one quick blog about how much I like Pizza Hut restaurants, especially the ones I’m acquainted with in Germany.

Living in Germany, I only really know one Pizza Hut restaurant in the U.S., the wonderful restaurant in Mesa, Arizona, in a little shopping center more or less at the intersection of Baseline Road and Gilbert Road. The staff there is incredibly friendly and helpful, and their lunch buffet is excellent. However, I also have fond memories of the Pizza Hut restaurants in Clinton, Iowa and Savanna, Illinois, my first exposure to their delicious food.

Unfortunately, there is no Pizza Hut close to where we live here in Germany. Pizza Hut in Germany, I wish you would consider opening a restaurant in Freiburg.

So, I’m reduced to searching for Pizza Hut restaurants in the cities where I attend library conferences. Fortunately, I often get lucky.

In Leipzig the magnificent Pizza Hut restaurant is conveniently located in the train station, at the level of the train platforms. For those who don’t know the Leipzig train station, it is a huge, beautiful mall that also lets trains stop there. You can literally spend hours or days wandering around in there, but you should make it to the Pizza Hut at least once a day.

I was so sad when I could no longer locate the Pizza Hut restaurant on the Kürfürstendamm in Berlin, but its more than worthy successor is located at the Potsdamer Platz. It isn’t completely easy to find in the dark if you haven’t been there before (there are many shops and restaurants at the Potsdamer Platz), but it is worth effort. I recommend searching for it in daylight so that you can find it at night.

The Pizza Hut restaurant in Karlsruhe is extraordinarily beautiful, and within walking distance of practically everything, the train station (maybe 30 minutes away, but the streetcar ride there will only take about seven minutes), the Badische Landesbibliothek (state library of the Baden section of our state of Baden-Württemberg), the magnificent university (one of my favorites – again maybe 30 minutes away by foot and seven to ten minutes by streetcar), and the administration building of the unified Protestant Church of Baden.

The smaller but equally beautiful Pizza Hut restaurant in Aachen isn’t completely easy to find if you are coming from the train station. You have to walk all the way around the cathedral (which, however, isn’t all that difficult to find) and not give up. It is so worth the effort!

The lovely Pizza Hut restaurant in Würzburg is at one edge of the downtown pedestrian zone, maybe a ten-minute walk from the train station (fifteen minutes if you are dragging a heavy suitcase). This restaurant is worth looking for.

It’s been far too long since I was at the Pizza Hut restaurant in Heidelberg, but I still have fond memories of it.

I also have fond memories of the Pizza Hut restaurant in Dresden, but I haven’t been there in a while, and according to the Pizza Hut “restaurant finder” for Germany, it is no longer there.

So, why am I so fond of Pizza Hut? Mostly, I love the food, the pizzas, the pasta (I’m especially fond of chicken with broccoli), the garlic bread toasted to perfection, and the delicious deserts, like the dinner-plate sized warm chocolate chip cookie with ice cream. I love the taste of the food. I love the huge variety to be found on the menus. I could eat there every day and find something different I liked each time. The Pizza Hut employees are amazingly and uniformly kind, friendly, helpful, and very, very pleasant. They make your stay even more enjoyable.

Again, when will there be a Pizza Hut restaurant in Freiburg? People there also deserve this wonderful food.

As a public service measure, here is where you can search for Pizza Hut restaurants in Germany:

http://www.pizzahut.de/restaurants-express/restaurantfinder/

However, I do have one minor source of discontent with respect to the Pizza Hut organization in Germany, the “Pizza Hut Express” food facilities. Basically, and in most cases, they are a mistake. I understand the theory, taking advantage of small spaces available and busy customers who truly want to grab one or two slices of pizza, wolf them down while standing, and then run on their satiated way. However, the “menu” is extraordinarily limited, and the food just doesn’t taste as good to me as the food especially prepared for me in a Pizza Hut restaurant. In the long run, I’m afraid these Pizza Hut Express establishments will ruin the excellent Pizza Hut reputation. Just sayin’ … A word to the wise … etc.

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I can’t draw.

I can’t draw.

I’m hoping my next blog entry will be about the Inetbib 2013, but last time it took me four months to get my blog about the Inetbib 2010 in Zurich finished, and right now I’m fairly overwhelmed from the impressions of the Inetbib 2013. The short version is that this again was the best Inetbib ever, but I have to collect my thoughts better.

In the meantime, reflecting on my deep, dark secret (due to advanced age, I hardly have any secrets any more – if something needs to be kept secret, I just don’t do it or don’t say it), it’s quite simple: I can’t draw. Really. My fine motor skills are such that my fingers are not capable of reproducing on paper the beautiful pictures I see in my mind’s eye.

Said skills have been able to operate a manual typewriter (yes, I am that old!), an electric typewriter and a computer keyboard with mouse, but that’s it. I can’t draw a straight line; I can’t draw a smooth, curved line. My fingers simply don’t ever create a copy of what my brain sees. Oh, and not surprisingly, I also have atrocious handwriting as my fingers won’t write smooth, rounded letters.

I’m not complaining. There are worse inadequacies. But I do get seriously annoyed at the illogical and thoughtless ideologies of people who can draw. A frequent such idiocy goes something like this: “Everyone can draw and/or kids love to draw.” No, this is patently and obviously untrue. I can’t be that unique. If I can’t draw, then there have to be others like me. And what I can’t do, I sure as hell won’t enjoy being forced to do.

Even as a very young child, I could see the difference between my jerky, uneven, desperate scribblings and the beautifully realistic creations of my classmates. Children aren’t fools and don’t appreciate being lied to or having their intelligence insulted (when well-meaning adults assure them that their misshapen grotesqueries are pretty or nice). That’s truly just adding insult to injury. Bad enough we can’t draw; it’s even worse to be automatically considered stupid.

I remember when I was creating some exercises for a 8th to 9th grade level workbook for English instruction in Germany and my editors suggested that I write a story in English and the assignment for the students would be for them to draw a picture that fit the story. I exploded and asked how the hell drawing a pretty picture would improve any kid’s command of written or spoken English. The answer was that they wanted to motivate students, and that “all kids love to draw”.

At this point I realized that the pernicious ideology of all kids loving to draw wasn’t restricted to elementary school teachers in the U.S., but was in fact a truly unfortunate planet-wide phenomenon.

So, beating the drum for those of us with poor fine motor skills again: We can’t draw and never will be able to draw and therefore hate to be forced to draw. Although we are a minority, we are everywhere. So, take us at our word (even if we are of pre-school age), and leave us (insert your favorite obscene expletive) alone!

You see, this rant does have a happy ending – all due to technology. If you can operate a computer keyboard and mouse, today you can create beautiful artwork – thanks to the hard work of thousands of programmers who have produced the magical programs for manipulating pictures and photos. Your computer can help you do what your fingers can’t You start out with pictures available for public use and make them into what you see in your mind’s eye. The universe is the limit.

What a wonderful time to be alive! Pass the word on to any kid still struggling to draw something that just won’t let itself be drawn.

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Anticipation

It might be an age thing. “Anticipation” first reminds me of the Carole King song and then of the ketchup commercial. But I think anticipation is one of the greatest feelings human beings are privileged to enjoy. You don’t want to confuse anticipation with expectation. Expectation is the worst thing you can do to yourself. Expectation almost always involves demanding that other people behave in a certain way, but of course you have no control over how other people will ever react, with which speed, with which vehemence, etc.

Anticipation on the other hand is the feeling of butterflies zooming around in your stomach when you’re really looking forward to something, and you’re scared, and you can’t wait, and you wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into, and you have serious doubts about whether you are qualified, and you wonder whether you have any right to take up the time of this advanced group, and then your ambition gets the better of you, and you want to show what you can do, and you’re back to really, really looking forward to the chance.

In this sense I am really, really looking forward to both the Inetbib Conference in Berlin this March and to the Print On Demand Workshop in Lincoln City, Oregon this May. In each case, based on previous experiences, I know I will be surrounded by energetic yet kindly people who know so much more than I do. With any luck they will be able to teach me some of what they know. I can’t wait.

There are more and more abstracts available online for the talks at the Inetbib, but of course I haven’t been able to squirrel away the time to read them. There’s been too much to do at my library, and I keep making time-consuming promises that I later regret. But it’s a long train ride to Berlin, and I’ll be able to read them then. I hope I show up at the conference not entirely ignorant.

There is less I can do to prepare for the POD workshop in Oregon. I know pretty much nothing about producing a book for print, and have one major handicap – that I will blog about later.

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Archbishop Weakland’s Autobiography

Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop by Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., http://www.amazon.com/Pilgrim-Church-Memoirs-Catholic-Archbishop/dp/0802863825/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

I don’t do a lot of book reviews, but I decided to make an exception for Archbishop Weakland’s excellent autobiography. Intrigued by a recommendation (which is longer story and one that I may relate in about nine years or so), I read the whole thing, sentence by sentence, word for word.

Archbishop Weakland is an excellent writer with a clear and engaging writing style, making even the most detailed minutiae of life in a Benedictine monastery or in the Vatican accessible and interesting. His reflections are a no-holds-barred recollection of the significant events in his life. He spares himself no criticism while trying to explain just how everything fell into place in his life. Anyone would enjoy reading this book, but I want to recommend it to three specific groups:

If you consider yourself any kind of Catholic or if you are fascinated by the inner workings of the Vatican, perhaps after reading the Da Vinci Code, then you need to read this book, if only for the wealth of information contained in it. Buy it. It’s expensive, but worth every cent.

If you lived anywhere in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee while Archbishop Weakland was in office (1977-2002), then you will also find the many revelations fascinating. Buy this book.

To my writer friends: If you are a writer, even if you have no particular interest in or affection for religion, you should read this book. So many of our characters end up as little, one-dimensional, convenient stick figures. Archbishop Weakland is maddeningly complex, highly intelligent, well-educated, and insightful regarding many things and infuriatingly clueless and boneheaded stupid about others. He means well so often and yet blurts out the occasional tactless insult. He is fearless about standing up for what he believes and yet timidly gives in to a blackmailer’s demands. It is impossible to dislike him even while you are rolling your eyes at some of his obviously wrongheaded decisions. Once you have analyzed the contradictory archbishop, you will have enough material for at least ten new and different characters. Archbishop Weakland’s descriptions and analyses of the Vatican provide the best explanation for the survival of bureaucracies that I have ever read. Anyone who wants to have a bureaucracy as a character or a setting in a story needs to read this, if only to understand how a long-lived bureaucracy is a perpetual motion machine, one that sucks in its energy from the outside.

So, writer friends, go to your closest library (You’re a writer; therefore you are well aware of the help you can get from your local library) and beg them to acquire this book so that you can check it out. It’s too expensive for you to buy, but you would benefit from reading it.

My rating for the book: on a scale of one to ten, it’s an obvious ten. Take the (significant amount of) time to read it.
You won’t regret it!

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Inetbib 2013 – registered

I registered for the Inetbib 2013, and my impatience continues to grow, especially now that I have had time to read some of the abstracts of the talks. As I have mentioned before, the Inetbib is the absolute cutting edge of library work, where you encounter the newest developments first. The program and abstracts promise that this Inetbib will be no exception. I really can’t wait …

I couldn’t stay at any of the suggested hotels because my employer “requests” that we not stay anywhere that costs more than 60€ per night (if we wish to have our costs reimbursed), but I found a cheaper hotel close to one of the recommended ones and hope that I will be able to walk to the Humboldt University. Berlin of course has excellent public transportation, but it’s generally faster if you can walk to and from your hotel.

Now all I have to do is order my train ticket at work, and I’m ready to go!

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Christmas form letters

I don’t always manage to get my Christmas mail out on time, and I’m generally pretty stressed out (trying to get the last form letters stuffed into the envelopes) until almost Christmas, so I don’t mind when some of the Christmas mail doesn’t arrive until around New Year’s. I don’t have time to read any of it until after Christmas anyway.

Once the stress is over with, I relax and enjoy all the mail stacked up under the tree. I love Christmas form letters, not just because I write them myself. I just love reading what everyone takes the trouble to write. Christmas form letters aren’t that popular in Germany. People here ask me if it is an American thing or especially popular in the U.S., but based on my experience, I would have to say maybe Anglo-Saxon, since we get wonderful Christmas form letters from England (from people we met when Franz used to accompany his school classes to Cornwall). I also hesitate to claim that Christmas form letters are popular in the U.S., because I have the feeling that people either love them or hate them, generally with equal intensity and passion.

I think it’s wonderful to hear from people once a year, no matter what they choose to write. Some write essays about ideas important to them. Some list the achievements of their children and grandchildren. Some write about everything they did the past year; others write about everything that blindsided them over the past 12 months. The only thing that makes Christmas form letters even better is accompanying photos. Although I understand the preference for only showcasing your beautiful children and grandchildren, I prefer pictures of the entire family, including my aging contemporaries. Christmas, as a once-in-a-year opportunity to renew connections, is not the time for self-consciousness about one’s justifiably aging yet beautiful-to-the-observer looks. Hey, at this point in life, we should be grateful to have made it this far and certainly have a right to our wrinkles, loose skin and/or extra pounds.

I start thinking about my Christmas form letter around the end of November and set myself December 10 as the latest possible date for sending them to the U.S. With any luck, this means that the cards with form letters are on their way by December 12-14. Then comes the hard and frustrating work, writing the Christmas form letter again, this time in German. Theoretically that should be easier than translating, but either way it is damned discouraging. Mark Twain was right about the German language. I have people I ask for help in correcting my efforts, but every year I seriously consider just sending everyone the English version. I give up on this idea of course when too many German recipients assure me they would never be able to get through the English-language letter.

Many young(er) friends, relatives, and acquaintances have pointed out that I shouldn’t be so technologically challenged and continue to send out dead-tree messages, that I could post a Christmas video on YouTube or on my blog for more personal greetings. This is of course correct, but such possibilities would have to be an addition, not a replacement for my Christmas form letters, since many recipients are much more technologically challenged than I am.

That reminds me of the very sensible WIBBOW (Would I be better off writing) advice from the kind writers I met in Oregon. So, back to writing.

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