Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Report: Really Random Stuff

I think my subconscious took over again yesterday. After a truly epic burst of procrastination, when I finally got down to work I ended up coming up with something I didn't really expect that's now going to lead into something that could be ridiculously fun. Like, I was cackling to myself when I saw it coming.

There's no way to find a theme for this week's book report, since my reading was so varied last week, so I'll just dive in.

First, there was Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger. I requested this from the central library based on the title because I thought it would be something that I needed as a reference for something I'm working on, and because the library's online catalogue doesn't give much in the way of details, it turned out not to be what I needed at all when I picked it up. But I read it anyway, and I'm so glad I did because it was a fascinating book. It's a collection of first-person accounts transcribed from interviews with a variety of people who work at or who are involved with the museum, ranging from curators to janitors, trustees to security guards. The people talk about their jobs at the museum or their roles with the museum and how they came about, as well as their own lives and interests. Interestingly enough, some of the more intriguing stories are from the non-art people who could do pretty much the same kind of work at any other place.

It reminded me of a project I used to do in my first job out of college. I was working at a major academic medical center (medical school, biomedical sciences graduate school, health professions school, research labs, multiple hospitals and clinics, all combined in one huge institution), and my main job was being first the assistant editor and later the editor of the campus newspaper. Every year, there was an employee recognition issue, honoring the non-faculty employees celebrating milestone years (like 20 years, 25 years, etc.). These were the people who weren't doctors or scientists but who had still devoted their lives to this medical center -- people like secretaries, campus police and the people who washed glassware for the labs. It was pretty much my favorite part of the year because I got to go out and talk to these people and hear their stories. You could probably do a book like that about the medical center, or about any place, and the people who get the least glory or recognition at work are often the most interesting as people because they have full lives away from work. Instead of their jobs being their lives, their lives are their lives.

This book also made me want to go back to the museum. I've been once. I'd spent the early part of the day at the Cloisters, but since your admission to one museum gets you into the other on the same day, I decided to stop by the main museum on my way back downtown. I occasionally have museum issues, so that certain types of large art museums will suddenly get to me severely, and I have to get out NOW. I need the emergency exits like they have at haunted houses that allow them to get people out without making them go through the whole thing. It gets much worse if the place is crowded. I'd been fine in the Cloisters because it was practically empty and it's not laid out like a regular museum, but the big museum was very crowded because it was spring break and every school tour group that had taken a trip to New York for spring break was in the museum that day. I made it through the medieval collection and some of the arms and armor and then had the sudden "Get me out of here!" freak out but couldn't find my way out easily so I had to go through a lot more galleries to get back to the front so I could escape. I'm also not a very visual person, so I don't always connect well to art. I love the historic items, but I need words to really get art. For instance, the episode of Doctor Who about Vincent Van Gogh where Vincent makes them look at the stars was the first time I totally got that painting. I don't know how accurate that was to the real intent, but that speech helped me really see the painting. Now after reading this book, where the curators talked about their favorite pieces in the museum, I want to go to the museum again and look at those pieces because I think I'll get them now. I also want to meet some of these people from the book. And the book kind of made me want to try to get a job there. It would be so cool to passionately believe in the place you work like that. I guess I had some of that working for the medical school, but you don't get that working in a PR agency because the clients come and go and turn on you very easily.

Then over the weekend, I read the last Dick Francis book, co-authored with his son Felix and published after his death. It looks like Felix will be continuing as a solo act, but with the Dick Francis brand (there's a book listed as Dick Francis' Gamble, by Felix Francis, on Amazon, scheduled for release this summer -- no indication whether that's just a branding thing like all the "James Patterson" books written by other people or if it's Felix writing a book his father planned before his death so that Dick Francis gets some credit even if the book isn't actually written by him). I'm kind of guessing that this last book was mostly Felix because it felt different. Not in a bad way, but every author has a particular voice that's almost impossible to duplicate, and while the three previous collaborations have felt more like classic Dick Francis, this book felt like it was written by a slightly different person. It still scratches all the Dick Francis book itches and has everything I've loved about those books, so I'm thrilled that Felix is continuing the legacy. This book's hero is an Afghan war vet who's recuperating after losing a foot to an IED. Since the army has been his life, the only place he has to go is to the home of his mother, a famous racehorse trainer, with whom his relationship has always been rather icy. He discovers while he's there that his mother is in some kind of trouble, and out of sheer boredom from the lack of military objectives, he takes on the task of figuring things out, treating it all like a military campaign. This was practically a one-sitting read and the perfect thing for a cool, drizzly Sunday afternoon. Part of me wanted to savor it more, with the knowledge that it was the end of an era, but you just can't "savor" a Francis book the first time through. You can only devour.

And now it's another day of good writing weather, and I think I can write a bit more before my subconscious puts me on "pause" again. It's a pity I can't just extract my subconscious from my conscious brain and then plug it directly into the computer. I find myself saying, "Do I really need to be here for this?" But, alas, the subconscious has no fingers and needs me to type.

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