Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Lamenting the (Blockbuster) Library

By Paul

Before I criticize one of my favorite institutions -- public libraries -- a disclaimer...

All the naked bloggers LOVE libraries. We donate time to library functions. We devote energy to library fund-raisers. And, of course, we use their facilities. (Note to Jim Born: By "facilities," I don't mean their restrooms. I mean their stacks of books, their research capabilities).

In Los Angeles, we are blessed with a splendid library system with a Central Library downtown and 78 branches. As with most major libraries, you can go onto the main Library Website, peruse the catalog, order books delivered to the closest branch, and pick them up in two or three days. The Studio City branch is a five minute drive from my house, and I frequently order non-fiction books needed for research, sometimes a dozen books at a time.

I've begun to notice something while standing in the check-out line. I'm pleased to report that lots of teenagers are using the library. But then...I notice something else. About half the patrons aren't checking out books at all. They're clutching DVD's of "Spiderman 3," "Laura Croft Tomb Raider" and "Laverne & Shirley, The Complete Second Season."


I'm asking this question even though several "JAG" episodes I wrote are available in the stacks, and I earn a few pennies from library sales. But what's the public purpose here? Shouldn't couch potatoes buy their DVD's at Costco or rent them at Netflix or Blockbuster?

We're in an era of declining reading. Shouldn't libraries foster the consumption of books, not movies and TV shows? Shouldn't we encourage California kids to reach for John Steinbeck, and Jack London, not for taxpayer-purchased purchased vids of Oceans 11, 12, 13, or 99?

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm hopelessly out of date. Tell me what you think.


Some Florida writer pals are on the road this week. Bob Morris, who should know better, hit New York and Chicago over the weekend before heading for warmer climes. Tonight, he's at "M is for Mystery" in San Mateo; Wednesday at "Chaucer's" in Santa Barbara; Thursday afternoon at "Mysteries to Die For" in Thousand Oaks and at our very own "Mystery Bookstore" in Westwood Thursday evening. Bob is known for his wacky Caribbean novels, the latest of which is the somberly titled, "Bermuda Schwartz." I'll be there Thursday night, mainly because Bob mixes honest-to-goodness Dark and Stormies (Goslings Black Seal rum, ginger beer and lime) at his signings, in clear violation of liquor laws in all 50 states, but not the Bahamas or Virgin Islands.

And, of course, our very own Jim Born is traversing the state of Florida like a slick-talker pitching underwater lots in the Everglades. He's at "Borders" on Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale tonight, "Hooked on Books" in Islamorada tomorrow night, and "Murder on the Beach" in Delray Beach Thursday night. Friday, he'll be at the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia. Lucky Angelenos will see Jim at the "Mystery Bookstore" in Westwood on Tuesday March 6 with his new thriller, "Friendly Fire." Or, "Field and Stream." Or whatever the heck it's called. Jim does not mix rum drinks for his readers but has been known to threaten some with bodily harm.

With Jim and Bob touring and Patty just back from travel hell (yesterday's blog), you might want to check out Dave Barry's classic, "Highlights from the Billion-City Book Tour," just reprinted by The Miami Herald.

One highlight of the "Highlights."

At a bookstore in Seattle, I meet a urologist who tells me and a group of fascinated yet horrified onlookers about items that he personally has removed from the male anatomy unit.

"One was a swizzle stick from a Ramada Inn," he says, causing a violent outbreak of male wincing.


The Wall Street Journal reports that in 1970, more than 70% of Americans age 18-34 read a daily newspaper. Today, the figure is about one half that amount. Supposedly, it's not such bad news, because young people are getting their news from the Internet.

Yeah, right. Here are the eight most-searched terms yesterday on Yahoo.

Britney Spears
Anna Nicole Smith
Beyonce Knowles
Kate Winslett

I am looking for the silver lining in all this. Ah, here it is. Paris Hilton was only number 14 in most-searched terms.


The Wall Street Journal also reported some surprisingly good news for baby boomers. Tests have shown that the aging brain performs some tasks better than younger brains. Unfortunately, I read the article a few days ago, and I can't remember exactly what those tasks were...


Naomi Hirahara is taunting me.

We are both published by Bantam Dell.

We are both competing for the same little statue of a long-deceased alcoholic and manic depressive named Edgar Allan Poe. Yes, "Snakeskin Shamisen" and "The Deep Blue Alibi" are both nominated for Edgars as best paperback original mystery of 2006.

And Naomi has twice e-mailed, offering to mud-wrestle to determine which of us should rightfully represent our publisher. She even posted her dare here, on the holy site of Naked Authors.

Being the gentleman I am, I have not answered these untowardly taunts. Rest assured, however, Naomi, that as soon as I figure out what a "Shamisen" is, you will receive my manly response.



  1. Paul,
    Thank you for mentioning my stop out there. I'm looking forward to my five day visit. I have a lot of friends out there.


  2. Hmmm. Let's say I can only go to one of those book signings.

    Bob...Dark and Stormies
    Jim...Fellow NakedAuthor

    Bob...Dark and Stormies
    Jim...Fellow NakedAuthor

    Where's Marianne when you need to make these decisions?

  3. Dang, Patty, you'm asking me?? I just got home from a Science Fiction Convention in Boston at the swanky Westin Waterfront and was made a truly awful Dark and Stormy by the barman there. He used Meyers rum instead of Goslings, and the Barrits Ginger Beer was flat. Aaaghrr! Spit, spit!

    I suppose you could get one of those tiny bottles of Goslings and pour it into a bottle of Barrits, and then swan over to Jim's signing. Or, take Jim to Dark and Stormies with Bob. Oh, the pain of decision-making!! :-D

    Sigh. Got to finish packing artwork for Dallas. Leaving tomorrow morning - very AM - out of Boston, to go to a convention down there. Bob's a special guest. However, some friends are throwing us a barbecue on Thursday night, and I even might sell some paintings on the weekend. :-D Might make up for the lack thereof from last weekend.

    Meanwhile, you guys have fun with all of your book appearances and such, and I'll look in from time to time. :-D


  4. Paul, I only have a problem with it (libraries carrying DVDs) when a huge part of the budget is devoted to those items rather than book purchases. What is "a huge part of the budget," you ask? I know it when I see it. :)
    Actually, you never know, one of those kids in line may strike up an acquaintance with a librarian and actually be persuaded to check out a book someday. You can't convert them if you can't get them in the door.

  5. I wonder if libraries are trying to lure people in with the DVDs, and then convince them that books are good, too?

  6. Deborah and Rae: you got it in one. Libraries offer a diverse range of not just reference books, tapes, dvds, microfiche and computer equipment, but like to offer entertainment features too. Fiction falls into this as well as DVDs. It's really nice when people discover something new to look at, read, what have you. Too many don't know enough to ask. My husband and I had coffee a few weeks ago with a youngman who was writing and illustrating a comic book about old local attraction, Rocky Point Theme park. BOb is one of his illustrators for it - purely for nostalgia reasons. Anyway, Librarian training at hand, I told the young man to go to the main library and ask if they had an 'ephemera collection'. A lot of people don't know what that is. Libraries often keep, catalog and store old pamplets, leaflets and flyers, etc that have local historical significane. ie, the old theme park and it's patrons. It was nice to see the light dawn in this youngster's eyes - having a new possible source of research to hunt down. :-D


  7. Some good points here.

    I did see this the other day. A Mom was checking out movie DVD's while her son had two or three R.L. Stine books in hand (one of which he'd already started reading in the line).

    Would Mom have brought Sonny to the library just for his books? No way to know.

    As I get older I will try to be less dogmatic and be more like Jim Born.

  8. Where to begin?

    "The Complete 2nd Season of Laverne and Shirley"? If you actually see people with such a thing, you have my permission to run them over with your car.

    I believe you missed something in your list of most common searches on the Internet. I believe each of those names should be in quotation marks, ie., "Anna Nicole Smith" followed by the word or words:


    I feel that would be a more accurate representation of the most common Internet searches. And if you've never visited the Naked News website, well, perhaps there is hope for the next generation watching news (sort of).

    And I always think of John D. MacDonald's quote (and I shall paraphrase): "Someone who can read and doesn't is no better off than someone who can't."


  9. Mark,
    Yes, you're quoting from John D. MacDonald's "Reading for Survival," a monograph he wrote shortly before his death in 1986. I believe it was commissioned by the Florida Center for the Book and the Broward County Library in Ft. Lauderdale. It consists of a conversation between Travis McGee and Meyer on the history of the written word, the importance of reading, etc., and is quite entertaining and informative.

    Naturally, I can't locate my copy, but my recollection of the quoted line is quite similar to yours. Something to the effect: "The person who can read, but does not, has no advantage over the person who simply cannot."

  10. I guess that's why they call them "media specialists" in our public schools. I have no problem with DVDs in the library unless they do start taking up an inordinate amount of the budget. There are many things that interest me enough to spend the time to watch a movie about them (did that make grammatical sense?)but that I wouldn't spend my precious reading hours learning about. I use audio books too when I'm busy doing something, but want to be reading.

    It's not bad, just different. And I'd say it's not a bad thing that people are coming to the library, for whatever. Eventually, there will be some crossover. I have to remind myself of that every time I can't find a computer terminal to check the catalog since there are so many people there using the free internet access. I say, hoorah for tax dollars at work and people using the library for whatever. Besides, their late fees will buy more books!

  11. A little and very pretty bird hinted that you had mentioned me on your blog. I'll give you a hint about the shamisen--you play it. But that's as far as I'll go with you, Levine.

    For a funny guy, you've been rather cross lately. What is it, award nominations get you cranky? Let's just wrestle and get it over with, because I don't think that the Naked Author readers can take too much more of this!

  12. I don't mind DVD's, CD's, audiotapes and the like. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I've always regarded a library as a cultural repository. Film and music are part of the culture.

  13. I've often wondered if the librarians at my local library have started to feel like they're working at a blockbuster. Our library has any DVD you could want, you just might have to wait for it. While I do make use of this, I also think it's a terrible use of the system. Couldn't the library think of anything better to buy than four copies of Mork & Mindy Season 2? We have Blockbuster for all the videos. I'm not even against the library having videos, I just think it's gotten a little excessive.

  14. You guys quoting MacDonald both got it wrong. In that essay (which is fabulous, and I have my copy always within reach) Meyer was quoting Mark Twain, who said,"The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."