The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

Elizabeth Camden Recommended Reading Leave a Comment

The main character of this novel is an autistic 15-year old boy. An intriguing mystery begins on the first page, when the boy walks outside his house one night to discover his next-door neighbor’s dog killed with a garden rake. He decides to figure out who did it and why. This unlocks all sorts of deep secrets and complicated, surprising developments.

While I can’t say that I enjoyed this book, it was mesmerizing, simply because of the insight it provides into how the autistic mind works. Never before have I been curious about what it must be like to live inside the mind of an autistic person, but I do try to understand different world points of view, and this book was simply outstanding for accomplishing that task.

I recommend you go over to Amazon and preview the first two or three pages. You will immediately see what I mean about experiencing the world through a mind that processes information a little bit differently. If you are intrigued by the preview, you will like the book. If the preview does not appeal to you, read no further. What you see is what you get, and you probably won’t warm up to the book.

Although this sort of novel is not my usual fare, I found it touching, eye-opening, and very illuminating. It is also a quick read, which is always a bonus!

Is it a Sin to Throw a Book Away?

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 2 Comments

People have a hard time throwing books away. How do I know this? I work in a library. We have people calling us daily asking where they can bring their books to donate. In the interest of maintaining good relations with the public, we will accept them, but always with the caveat that “if we can’t use them in the collection, they may be sold or discarded.” Most people are fine with this. And 99% of the time, the books end up being discarded. So in a way, the library is helping perform a service….throwing out books which people find too painful to do for themselves.

We rarely have this feeling of attachment to old cooking equipment, clothes, or the toys our children no longer play with….but books are different. We treasure the hours we spend with our books, and it would seem cruel to toss them out. So the books are donated to a library in hope they will be granted a second life.

Sometimes objects should have a second life. If clothes are still serviceable, they should be donated. If the toys are not broken and can be cleaned, ditto. In most cases, books are another story. This may sound like sacrilege coming from a writer and librarian, but it is okay to throw books away.  Some people suggest that the books should be donated to less developed nations, but libraries have been down this road with very poor results.  The cost of packing and shipping books is immense, and as the people of those nations would be better served by new books in their native language, there are better ways to get information to the developing world.

 Here are a few tips to know when to toss a book:

  • It is dirty, stained, or musty.
  • Outdated books. You know the ones….Computers for Dummies dating back to 1985. Or how to make a macramé vest for your boyfriend. This type of book has outlived its useful life, and should be put out of its misery.
  • You know you will never read the book again, and it is so widely available even the used bookstores are not accepting copies of it.
  • You have tried to sell or donate it, but you can’t. If no one picked it up at your garage sale, the library didn’t want it, and even Good Will won’t take it…this is a clue that the book may have served its useful purpose.

One of my favorite blogs is Awful Library Books, where librarians nominate the worst books from their collections. This site is a hoot, and I think you’ll agree with me that these books have served their purpose.

*Thanks to Holly Hibner for this groovy example of macramé fun!

Researching the Professions

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life Leave a Comment

The following Research Tip is geared toward people writing contemporary fiction.

There will inevitably come a time when one of your characters is employed in a profession you know nothing about. Do you really have a sense for the daily experiences of a Graphic Designer? A Mortician? A Lumberjack? A Librarian? Beyond a few stereotypes, most people could not really provide the answer.

Here is a fabulous resource: The Occupational Outlook Handbook. You can search the database by using the “search ooh” box on the middle left of the screen.

Provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, this site gives you an excellent overview of the training, pay, job requirements, and typical responsibilities of every profession from street-sweepers to brain surgeons. It provides practical insight into the daily life of a huge range of professions, and can help imbue your writing with an authentic feel.

Incidentally, this site is terrific for young adults who don’t yet know what they want to do with their life. For all those kids who think they are destined to be an artist or designer of video games, it tells them exactly which degrees they need to earn, and the competitiveness of landing a paying job. Young kids are usually stunned to see how much computer and engineering skills this requires, rather than merely being good at playing games! It is also a terrific resource for college students who have not picked a major yet, or people considering a career change.

*Photo courtesy of Mr. Plakboek.

The Gothic Study at Hearst Castle

Elizabeth Camden Splendid Libraries 1 Comment

Several years ago I was lucky enough to visit Hearst Castle near San Simeon, California. This was where the famous newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, lived for the last half of his life.

During its heyday in the 1920’s and 30’s it was the gathering place for Hollywood royalty and power-brokers from across the world.

Overall, the castle was a little overdone for my taste, but I loved the library. The warm, comfortable seating and the built-in book shelves make me want to curl up and spend the weekend in there. Much of Hearst Castle was very ornate and overly-gilded for my taste…..but the library was perfect.

*Photos courtesy of Trey Ratcliff and Meg Pi.

A Glimpse into Yesterday

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I have always been intrigued by the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century, and I generally use it for my historical novels. This was a time of such transition. The difference between how people in lived in urban and rural environments was staggering. Towns were being wired for electricity and telephones, the cities were being plumbed for running water and flush toilets. Kitchens could support refrigeration and modern stoves. The city streets were sound enough to support new-fangled automobiles and streetcars, but just a few miles outside town, all these amenities were scarce.

Much like we now struggle to establish proper etiquette for cell phone usage in movie theaters or in business meetings, people at the turn of the century were learning the same thing. The video above is a fascinating example of emerging technologies clashing with the old. These people don’t seem to realize that in the battle between a bicycle and a streetcar, the streetcar always wins! As you watch the video, see how many forms of transportation you can spot. Or how many different uniforms worn by the passers-by. Or watch how people respond to the camera.

Incidentally, this video was shot in San Francisco, just a few weeks before the catastrophic earthquake and fire that caused the death of more than three thousand people and left half the population homeless. When I watch this video, I wonder what happened to all those lively people captured in this brief glimpse into their world.