Ok, so I meant to be really focused yesterday and zip through my stack of book reviews so that I could cook or work out or something later on. Well, what fun is focus? Of COURSE I digressed!
My first meander from the stack all started with my vigorous nodding at the Author's Note by Janice Nimura in the NYT Book Review. It's about the value of old-fashioned browsing as compared to the use of an internet browser. She writes about her luck to live in an age where she can do research for a book while sitting in her slippers and up to the very instant her kids' school bus arrives at 3:
I could punch in a range of dates and a few search terms, and within seconds have a presorted queue of articles, every one of which was relevant. No need to travel to distant archives, or spend fruitless hours turning the wrong pages.
We all totally get that - but she got me with this:
There's a problem with doing research this way: you find exactly what you're looking for, and nothing that you're not.
Ok, re-read that. I did. An then I am up off my chair, looking for a Koropp to share this brilliant insight with. Where's Emma?? Tom and Dave are out - so I texted Hannah at college, more on that later.
Nimura goes on:
It's not enough to find every mention of a specific event, even though algorithms make it easy. Sometimes the telling detail - the yeast that makes the whole lump rise - isn't in the headline you're reading. It's in the gossip column on the next page, or in the classifieds tucked in the back.
I know, right? I text Hannah again and rip out the Author's Note from my NYT.
Get this: Nimura tells us how Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand, house-bound with a chronic illness, buys vintage newspapers on eBay for her home-work. One day, while looking for more information on Seabiscuit, she flipped over the paper and found the story that became Unbroken. How cool is that?
I am beside myself with analogies. It's just like with Prairie Path Books, I tell my dogs, since I've outworn my Hannah's text-interest. Sometimes you come in to see us for one thing and through some serendipitous glance or overheard conversation, you meander into the joyful experience of unplanned discovery, curiosity, bonhomie -- I think it's called COMMUNITY. You might learn that Jenny is performing her new show at PPB on February 22 and be reminded that the novel everyone is talking about, My Name is Lucy Barton, is the PPB bookclub on February 16.
PPB friends, you and I both know that there is no substitute for a real visit. Even if what you see or hear is not something you yourself end up reading or doing, you might mention it to someone for whom it is just the thing. Making conversation is funner if we've been out and about for a true browse with real shoes on - not slippers. Community.
Back to my daughter. Sometimes if Hannah texts me right back, I know she's right there with her phone and she knows I know. Only rarely so I don't over-employ the tactic, I call her right at that moment. She sometimes texts back something like "I'm with friends, later." But on this Sunday I knew she was in her room. She picked up.
With the benefits of browsing on my mind, I shifted to another analogy: I wanted to remind my daughter of the joys of browsing through definitions of words in the dictionary. I launched right in and reminded her ... "remember I always encouraged you to look up words in a dictionary because in searching for your word, you flip to wrong pages and come across new stuff, and even when you're on the right page and using your index finger to find the word you need, you learn surprising things!" I told her I just now had that experience: so I'm reading about two great new books on Lincoln (fave President, totally ordering them for the store, really excited) and the word "hagiography" is used in the review. Hmm. Stumped. Hannah, you still listening? So I looked it up and learned it means a "biography that idealizes its subject." Just like my new book-crush Notorious RBG; Hannah did you read that yet, I sent it to your dorm? But here's the exciting part -- while searching for "hagiography" I came across "hagridden" which means oppressed in the mind, harassed. Hagrid from Harry Potter, Hannah! Did you know all this time that's what his name meant? Hannah?
My long-suffering teenager pointed out that I was full of it and that she had heard me speak "define limn" or whatever word I don't know into my iPhone. Curses. OK, she's right - sometimes I do that. But, I pointed out, I try to click on the synonyms from there to "browse" - like for limn it's interesting to whittle through the precise meanings of "synonyms" suffuse and imbue. She retorted that with her phone she can say "pronounce hagiography" and an app or whatever it's called comes up and PLAYS THE CORRECT PRONUNCIATION for you. (listen here to the pronunciation of "hagiography").
Rats, she has me there. That phone thingy is GOOD - I love that I can feel confident saying aloud my new word. I'm saying it to myself now. Go ahead, say it: "Haygeeahgraphy" OK, so, point for Hannah and technology. Also, she says - you can take a "screen shot" of the word you have just learned and refer back to it throughout the book or week or whatever so that you actually remember it. Egad. Rotten kid.
So I guess my point is (there is one, there is one!) that real-live browsing is best, however, I am humbled to admit that sometimes technology rocks.
Hannah, glad I called. Not sure you are at the moment, but maybe someday.