Librarian Avengers

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May 26, 2005

Interview with Kevin Smokler Part Two (Son of Interview with Kevin Smokler)

Erica: Welcome back to day two of "Librarians Grill Kevin Smokler, editor of Bookmark Now". Kevin, yesterday you suggested some ideas for improving library services to authors, such as voluntary writer registrations for libraries to identify and partner with their local writers, and late hours (an idea that patrons love and sleepy librarians loathe!). Today let's talk about literature. In the Introduction to Bookmark Now, you write a passionate rebuttal to the NEA's Reading at Risk report, which predicts the death of reading and literature in our culture. Could you talk a bit about what made you decide to showcase next generation writers, and have them write about writing, reading, and their place in the cannon?

Kevin: At first it was anger at hearing my parents generation (the baby boomers, the rock n' roll generation) asking me repeatedly if my generation read books. Which just seemed foolish given the popularity of Nick Hornby, Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith and This American Life. But between then and the book that became Bookmark Now, I got simultaneously more involved in working with publishers and authors and interested in blogs, rss, the next wave of online communication. Because I'm a yenta at heart and would rather have my interests in dialogue with one another, I began speaking to publishing professionals about how these technologies could help them reach readers in a hypermedia 21st century. It was then I realized how far behind this business that I love was, how left out of the cultural conversation it was making itself. And that made me sad as well as angry.

So I took what was left of the first idea--a new generation of writers who we thought were not leading literary lives and then mixed in data from the Reading at Risk report and the great flux we were all witnessing in the larger world of media. Bookmark Now then ended up as a reflection of what what it means to be creating and disseminating literature at this time in our history. I'm very happy with the result.

May 24, 2005

Bookmark Now

Special treat, folks. For the rest of the week I'm dedicating this page to an interview with my friend Kevin Smokler, editor of Bookmark Now: Writing in unreaderly times. I met Kevin while sitting on the floor at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. He handed me a slip of paper on which was written directions to dinner that night. "Paper email," he said.

I'll be e-interviewing Kevin all this week on subjects writerly and librariany as part of the Virtual Book Tour.

Erica: Kevin, as a long-time advocate of literature and literacy (real literacy, not that "cultural" or "visual" silliness) you and the Librarian Mafia (as we like to call ourselves) have much in common. What do you think librarians can do to improve our services to young writers like those profiled in Bookmark Now?

Kevin: Erica, first off, thank you for having me. The opportunity to speak and share ideas with librarians, the ball and socket joints of our profession, is one I don't get very often.

A few thoughts: From a professional standpoint, libraries are crucial research centers for us non-fiction authors and many novelists too. But that relationship seems mostly a functional, transitory one, which ends with the book being stocked on the library shelves and the library and staff getting thanked in the acknowledgments. Hundreds of books owe their existence to the research materials afforded by any major library. Why not make hay from that? Why not find the authors using the library in their research and have them give midway seminars about their research and discoveries? Why not have a quarterly reception for all authors using the library to encourage community with the library as the locus? Why not make sure the library is a stop in the publicity efforts for that book? What all this requires, as you can already see, is some way for authors using the library to make themselves known to library staff. Perhaps a special "registration" for authors? There's probably a less ethically thorny solution I haven't thought of yet.

Specific to young authors, it comes down to a question of accessibility and convenience. Young folks keep later hours so wouldn't it be great if fund were available for the library to be open late a few nights a week? Wouldn't it be great if library announcements, events, new acquisitions were available via a series of rss feeds so I didn't have to remember to go to the SFPL's web site to remind myself when that Richard Rodriguez lecture I wanted to see was. Wouldn't it be great if the library paid some kid on a bicycle to deliver reserved materials to requesters nearby so I didn't have to remember to walk by the library on X hour and Y day when it's open. The sad truth is that, with Google available on my desktop, if the library is less convenient, I won't bother with it. However, unlike google, the library is a physical place. Highlight the benefits I get going to it instead of staying at home. Art galleries do a "First Thursdays" in cities across the country. What about one for libraries?


Friends, we need to have a little talk. Judging from some of your emails, many of you are Woefully Ignorant of one of the most important debates going on the world today. I refer to the fight between Flint-style coneys and Detroit-style coneys. Apparently there is a place claiming to be "Angelo's" located in shiny Ann Arbor (a yuppie Detroit suburb with delusions of grandeur) selling some vile mockery of a coney dog. I'm here to tell you that this is WRONG. Coneys belong to Flint. Flint invented coneys. Specifically, coneys belong to a little place called Angelo's.


From the 1970's on, Flint's Angelo's Coney Island restaurant was a meeting-place of cultures. On a given night you could see rich old women in furs, bikers, prostitutes, gang members, suburb punk rockers (the quasi-urban angst!), and the mayor eating side-by side in its red vinyl benches. The waitresses coughed a lot and if you were really nice, you might get a tobacco-stained smile. They were open 24 hours, every day except Christmas, until the health department made them close for an hour every night to clean. There were fights in the parking lot. You could get fries with gravy. The signs, menu and prices hadn't changed for 30 years.

What was the attraction? The unchanging ambiance and the coneys. Ah, the coneys. A coney dog, dear reader who wasn't fortunate enough to be born in Flint, is a Koegel's hot dog (made with real innards!) with a dry spicy meat sauce, finely chopped raw onions, and mustard. Eat it. It's good. Get two, you might as well.

There are two genres of Coney dogs: Flint-style and Detroit-style. Detroit-style is all runny and nasty, just a dog with chili on top. Flint-style on the other hand, is coney perfection. These days, the original ones can be found at Tom Z's coney island downtown. Accept no substitutes.

When GM has a strike, Flint women cook up sauce in a crock pot, chop up onions, and deliver coneys to the picket line. Flint kids go to Angelo's before prom, carefully lifting their ballgowns off the floor.

A few years ago, Angelo's was sold. The new owners fired the coughing waitresses, dressed up the new ones in "Angelo's" t-shirts, took down the old yellow menus, raised prices, franchised the place, changed the food, and generally fucked everything up.

Fortunately, the Angelo's-shaped hole in the universe has ushered in a new era. During my last visit, I saw dozens of new coney places that had opened up. Flint coneys are everywhere now. I remain hopeful.

Thus endeth the tale of the Vastly Superior Flintstyle coney. Anybody has anything different to say about the quality of the Flinttown dog, then come on up here and say it. I'll fight ya. Come on. You. Right now. Flint!

May 10, 2005

Escape from Flint

Last night I drove back to Ithaca from my hometown of Flint, MI. I had Great Expectations on tape, and Dickens' verbosity helped get me through the nine-hour drive without plowing into someone out of sheer boredom. Flint was unexpectedly fun. I got to see my favorite old gang, and their cute new kids. Downtown's been sexed up a bit, with some lighted arches and a cobblestone overhaul. The best thing downtown is Flint City T-Shirts, my friend Matt's new shop. I got an "I heart MI" shirt, and Erin got one that says "Flint: Baddest town around since 1855."

Things I missed while I was in Flint (Good)
  • Snoop Dogg asking Cornellians "Can U Control Yo Hoe?" (more on misogyny in hip hop)
  • Slope day snowfences
  • Cat barfing
Things I missed while I was in Flint (Bad)
  • Beezoo and Lexie delivering brownies at work
  • Tulips blooming in spite of the damn deer (curse you deer!)
  • International dance festival (opa!)
Things I did while in Flint
  • Ate assloads of coneys. Pretty much literally.
  • Went to Wal-mart twice with parents. Bought nothing. Washed off corporate slime afterward.
  • Gave driving tour of expensive public works projects that were going to "save Flint"
  • Tamale night at Erin's grandma's
  • Mourned the death of Angelo's. The walls are bare. They have wheat toast. The waitress called my friend "sir." It's over.
  • Three-hour gossip session with everyone's favorite Joel
  • Got asked out by skeevy Australian waiter while at Olive garden with mom.
  • Introduced parents to veggi burger. Ate chicken in exchange.
In other news, Wendy at Poundy describes the Seattle Public Library most aptly.
Store Wars should tip you over your monthly bandwidth quota nicely. Headphones required. Organic and work-safe.

May 2, 2005

Best prank ever.

Breaking news!
Someone stuck a disco ball on the top of Cornell's McGraw tower. It's still there, but they are going to remove it this morning, so get over here if you want to see it. Or you can try to zoom in on it with the webcam. Here's a site dedicated to some other famous Cornell pranks.