Our son gave me Jim Henson: The Biography for Christmas, and I've been tucking into it over the last while. I've been learning a lot about Henson, who coined the word "muppet" many years before either Sesame Street or The Muppet Show. He actually had worked out the concept for that series more than a decade before it finally made its way to air, with sketches for an opening that look remarkably similar to the "it's time to meet the Muppets" theme that we all know.
Henson started performing the Muppets in slots on local TV in Washington, and caused enough of a buzz (no pun intended) that he was approached by a regional coffee distributor, Wilkins Coffee, to make TV commercials.
Each spot was short - just 10 seconds, which meant that Henson and his partner and future wife, Jane, had to come up with eye-catching moments. The jokes are blunt, and Henson deployed techniques to get a laugh that future Muppet Show audiences would love. The ads worked so well that Henson was asked to replicate the formula for other regional companies. For many, the ads were the first time anyone had seen the puppets, or heard the voice of Henson, who by this point was only 21 years old.
I was curious to see if the ads are available online. Sure enough, they are ... all rounded up in one place, too.
"Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian 'improving' literature. You'll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant."
This is an excerpt from an essay by Neil Gaiman on why libraries matter and such things; it includes an argument on why parents should avoid interfering too much in the reading preferences of their children, and let them pursue what they want rather than eliminating choices (like comic books) and prescribing what they think is important. You can read the whole of it here.
"We take to fiction, I suppose, because no such thing is going to happen, and at least on the printed page we can observe beginnings, middles and ends, and can find out where morality resides." - Fay Weldon
"It’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party." - Nick Hornby
An unexpected mashup of interests for today's TeeFury shirt. It's called Bounty Hunter S. Thompson, combining Boba Fett with Ralph Steadman's iconic drawing style for the ultimate gonzo journalist's work.
Yes, I'm buying it. It's available for the rest of the day (and early tomorrow, for a little extra).
One of the podcasts I like listening to while I make coffee and putter about the house is Alec Baldwin's Here's the Thing, which is produced by WNYC in New York. The show is an extended chat with a notable person, often someone in entertainment, with often insightful results; Baldwin, it turns out, has a knack for conversation. Last night, I listened to the latest show, with Andrew McCarthy - yes, the Andrew McCarthy who was in movies like St. Elmo's Fire and who is still best known as being a member of the so-called Rat Pack of Eighties movie stars. And since then, he ... well, I had no idea.
As it turned out, McCarthy has continued to work in movies, TV and theatre, often as a director, but he's made a very different niche for himself as a travel writer. The thing that put him on the Here's The Thing is a memoir called The Longest Way Home, which seems to be not so much as seeing the world as learning how to grow up. (McCarthy is about to turn 50.)
I like hearing interviews of people whose work I know well, but I also like being surprised, and finding something interesting in something I had never (to be frank) cared much about.
Out now from self-described micro-press Running The Goat is a new Jack story by Andy Jones, who has been collecting and telling them now for a few decades. Jack and Mary in the Land of Thieves features illustrations by Darka Erelji, and it's on my list.
Running The Goat even produced a pretty nifty video to promote it. Here it is:
Here's a collector's item I learned about, like the author of the piece: an edition from three decades ago of Robert Crumb's (or, R. Crumb's, if credibility really, really matters to you) sketchbooks from his truckin' prime.
I got a pleasant surprise last night when I logged on to the e-library that the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries offers.
There used to be a limit of three titles that you could have out at a time. Now, that limit is up to five books - and it does make a difference, especially if you really just want to have a look at a book and see if it's worth the investment of time. (This is a downside of borrowing electronically; at least at the stacks, you can quickly browse a wide variety of books, and there's something to be said about that tactile connection.)
I've been finding the e-book service quite useful, and indeed have been reading more, and more widely, since I installed it. Learning I had room for two extra titles was a gift.
[Surf’s Up, as published in the St. John's Telegram on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012.]
A little while ago, my wife got a notification from the library that a book she had wanted was ready for her to read. Instead of driving over to pick it up, though, she made a few taps on a screen and the book was hers to enjoy.
The eLibrary program of our public library system is a great addition to its services, and I’ve really been happy to see (or rather hear) ads that promote it. After all, advertising is really necessary to reach a new audience.
We learned about it first during a library visit, but as any regular patron will tell you, a great many people never set foot on a library floor. That means you need to get their attention through other means.
I’m a great believer in libraries. I love them, I love going there, I love wandering the stacks, and I love finding surprises. I also see them as essential to the meaning of community, and believe that reading stokes our economic engines.
However, I have to be honest and say that Newfoundland and Labrador does not truly value its libraries, and sometimes seems to neglect them. I’d love to see the library system truly transformed, and given the respect that libraries deserve, and that goes far beyond offering e-books.
But first, let’s take a look at what’s on offer with the digital library. That notification my wife got? That will sound familiar to anyone who’s used a library regularly, and used to get a call or a notice in the mail (and more recently an email). Getting the book is simple enough: you need to log in, add the title to your cart and check it out. It’s available for precisely two weeks.
If it’s just a digital copy, why wait at all for it to be become available? That’s because the library pays for digital licences for the books in this program. If it has, say, two licences for one book, only two people can have it on their Kindle or Kobo or tablet at any one time.
I have yet to use the service with my own card, by the way. As digital-minded as I am, I still actually read my books the old-fashioned way. I am planning to get my own tablet soon, in part because reading news headlines on a phone can be a headache-prompter, and in part because I’ve seen how my wife (a nonstop reader, like me) has really enjoyed having an iPad.
What I’ve seen in the eLibrary selection is not bad. A lot of popular fiction, a smattering of material in various other sections, some surprises. And don’t forget, we’re still in early days. I hope that the variety expands continually.
A single patron can have three e-books out on loan at a time, and after two weeks, your licence expires, which means tapping on the icon won’t work. The upside is that there are no late fines! You can renew in a jiffy, though, should there be no one waiting for the book.
This is a convenient system, and I imagine it’s very welcome news for people who don’t live at all close to a library. The geographic gap has been made considerably shorter.
But the eLibrary is not enough to transform our libraries into the institutions they ought to be.
My local library happens to be the A.C. Hunter, the flagship in the province’s system, and a place I’ve been going since I was a little kid. Our family has made a habit lately of “library night,” and every two weeks (sometimes three) we trek over, split up and then regroup with what we’d like to borrow.
Some nights, there are readings and activity. More often, though, the place feels deserted, and it’s such a shame. Compare that to the buzz and the crowd at the same time at Chapter’s, around the corner on Kenmount Road. It says something – quite a lot, actually – that many people prefer to hang out and relax at a place where books cost money than where they are free.
I don’t like the physical space of the Hunter. It’s not nearly big enough, and is constricted by how it’s wedged into the Arts and Culture Centre. The fiction stacks bore me; I see the same old (decades-old, in many cases) hardcovers every time.
We need to rethink all our libraries, top to bottom … with the exception of Memorial University’s library, which has a first-rate and publicly overlooked collection. Very few of the schools in the province have a dedicated, full-time librarian; the threshold for such a position is several hundred more students than the typical school actually has.
As kids grow up, the public libraries are hardly designed to be places where they would want to go.
Simply stated, the public libraries are not particularly welcoming places. The librarians themselves? They’re great, and I always find them helpful. But the spaces are cold and institutional, and feel like they’re meant for storage, not active use. Believe me, it takes more than a couch to get that feeling across.
Nor do we make them as accessible as they could be. They are not funded to be open seven days a week, let alone six. It pains me that the libraries aren’t open on Sundays – and don’t get me started about summer hours.
Yes, the answer involves money (we spend far too little per capita on the knowledge sector of the economy), but it’s more than that. It means some visionary thinking has to come from the owners of the libraries, and that includes politicians and consumers alike. That’s no easy nut to crack.
But think about what libraries could be. As my wife puts it, “libraries should be our city squares,” where people simply want to go, regardless of whether they’re planning to borrow anything or not.
The eLibrary is a great step toward connecting the public with a good resource in our midst. But let’s work at making it a great resource, once that involves bricks and mortar as much as bits and bytes.
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.