February 8, 2012
Like many communities across the United States, my town, Englewood, New Jersey, is currently considering deep cuts (approximately 26 percent) to the budget for our public library. Here's the body of an e-mail I wrote yesterday to remind the mayor and my councilman of the library's importance to our community:
I am writing in advance of tonight’s council meeting to register my dismay at the proposed cuts to the budget of the Englewood Public Library. I’ve been a resident of Englewood for 25 years, and have seen over and over the importance that the library has to our community. Just last November, when my home on the East Hill was without power for four days, I was one of hundreds of residents of Englewood who sought light, heat, and Internet access at the library. Since I work in a home office, the library was essential in allowing me to remain productive during those “dark days.”
As an author and editor, the library is crucial to me as a research tool. Even in the age of the Internet, there is no substitute for being in a building surrounded by books and other resources, including trained, helpful librarians. But the library’s importance goes beyond the needs of any individual. An article in the September 2011 issue of The Council Chronicle, published by the National Council of Teachers of English, reported that, “A number of studies have appeared in the last few years indicating that access to books not only has a positive effect on reading achievement, but also that the positive impact of access is as large as the negative impact of poverty. This suggests that a good library can offset the effects of poverty on reading achievement.” Studies also show that the better their school and public libraries, the higher students score on state, national, and international reading tests.
This is a dynamic time in the worlds of publishing and information technology, and communities throughout the country are still figuring out how to incorporate digital books and Internet access into their libraries. Before radically reducing our library’s budget, Englewood should determine exactly how this important resource can be adapted to meet our community’s needs. No less a digital guru than Bill Gates once said, “I’d be happy if I could think that the role of the library was sustained and even enhanced in the age of the computer.” Let’s not act to diminish our community by gutting one of the most important resources we have.
August 24, 2011
Here's the totebag and its contents, after the ordeal.
On Sunday, August 21, tired and frazzled after a bumpy plane ride from Dallas and dreading a drive home in the pouring rain, I inadvertently left a totebag containing my iPad, GPS, and ALL the research for my next book somewhere between the luggage carousel at Newark Airport and the shuttle bus drop-off at the lot where I parked my car. I didn’t realize the bag was gone until I arrived home, and the immediate panic I felt got progressively more intense. First, I focused on my iPad, wondering how many passwords could be discovered or private accounts breached. Then I remembered the book research, scores of printouts from newspapers gathered during a trip to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. I also flashed on the book I’d been reading, Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River, and felt annoyed that I’d have to buy or borrow another copy to find out how the compelling story turned out. But that was an easily remedied problem. I spent most of my anxious moments wondering which was worse, the need to recreate all my carefully gathered research or the potential disaster of stolen passwords and illegally accessed accounts.
I tried to picture where I’d last seen the bag and knew I’d had it at baggage claim. I visualized it on a bench at the shuttle bus stop, but never after that. So I called Alexis at the Avistar Haynes Avenue parking lot and tried to calm my voice as I laid out the predicament. She promised to check around her office and ask her shuttle drivers to look on their buses and at the bus stop. I decided to try and call Newark Airport security, but finding a number is nearly impossible. I finally got one that seemed promising: The Port of Authority of NY and NJ Lost & Found for Newark Liberty, but when I called it, the message said no one was there and the message mailbox was full. It’s maddening that there’s no simple directory readily available for people to contact during moments like these.
It was after I checked back with Alexis, who said she hadn’t heard from her drivers yet, that my phone rang. The called I.D. showed a number I didn’t recognize, and when I answered, the caller asked, “Were you just at Newark Airport?” I said, “Yes, did you find my bag?” She said, “I might have, if you can tell me what’s in it.” I proceeded to list the iPad, book research, Campbell book, and the avocado wrapped in bubble wrap. (When I was in a store in Texas, I noticed that avocados were only 99 cents, as opposed to $2.50 in NJ, so I bought one. I just happened to have the bubble wrap with me.) She—Vicky—told me her son Cooper had seen the bag sitting on the bench at the shuttle stop and had brought it home. He and his sister were returning from a trip to L.A. with their dad. Cooper, 15, got on the phone and I thanked him profusely. Then Vicky told me her daughter Katharine, 13, had the brilliant idea to locate me by pressing “Home” on my GPS—I’d forgotten that my GPS was in the bag, too. They got my last name from a bill that was in there, and called information for my number. After thanking them again, I made plans to pick up the bag the next day. When I did, I brought along a monetary reward and a copy of one of my books. I also promised to thank them in my next book, the one based on all the research in the bag.
I wrote about this incident on Facebook, and many people who posted comments pointed out how great it was that these two kids were so honest and clever. I know how lucky I was and how disastrous this moment of carelessness could have been. It’s not at all how I wanted to remember the summer of 2011. Fortunately, I can remember it instead as the summer when two young heroes saved my hide.
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Misspelling of the Month
I don't often turn to Chinese restaurant menus for misspellings because they can be easy targets. But this one invented a new word that has a bit of charm. Quite accidentally, it's the second "steak"-related Misspelling of the Month in a row. So thanks to Empire Szechuan Village on Seventh Avenue, South, in New York City for this meaty mistake. (Of course, "waterchestnut" should be plural and two words as well.)
Click on the photo to see a larger image.