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Librarian Blog

What sells novels

Would the publisher have sold more than 1 million copies of "The Cuckoo's Calling" if readers had not found out it was written by J.K. Rowling?

No, they and all kinds of other experts say. Not anywhere close.

Rowling wrote the book under a pseudonym, and sales were tepid, according to a Saturday story in The New York Times.

Then -- oops -- it slipped out that the real author was Rowling, of Hogwarts fame.

Then sales soared.

The Times spends way too much space getting to the bottom line of this bottom line: In publishing as in just about everything else, it's all in the name. Or, the brand, as they say.

Of course, Rowling runs the risk of putting out mediocre stuff and seeing the brand erode.

However, that does not seem to have hurt Tom Clancy, who churns out encyclopedic claptrap and still sells well.

Making it even better

In the overall realm of food, this is an absolute truth: Bacon makes any dish better.

I realized this early in life because my dad cooked with bacon grease -- almost everything with bacon grease.

He cooked bacon for breakfast in his big cast-iron skillet, then poured the grease off into a coffee can that he kept on the back of the stove.

With spinach, bacon.

With collards, bacon.

With fried potatoes, bacon.

With fried okra, bacon.

I will probably die early because of all that grease.

But I still love bacon, just as much as all those folks who line up at Burger King and McDonald''s and Wendy's to get bacon cheese burgers.

It never crossed my mind, though, to put bacon into the deconstructed Hatch chile rellenos that I wrote about recently in this space.

David Morales, a regular volunteer here at the library, thought about it, though.

He e-mailed me right after I posted the recipe, wondering about how the casserole would taste with bacon.

YES! I wrote back, figuratively slapping my forehead.

I figured it might work best to fry the bacon crispy, then crumble it on top before putting the dish into the oven.

Before I could get a chance to try it, David beat me to the test.

He reports that it was wonderful.

How on earth could it not be?

THE question for James Patterson

The prolific author James Patterson was the subject of the Q and A in the New York Times book review section yesterday.

The operative word in that sentence is "prolific." The guy beats anything I ever saw in terms of productivity. His name is on almost everything that comes through the library other than the Wimberley View.

So, an in-the-know reader might expect the editors of the book review section to ask the single most obvious question that the curious in-the-know reader would ask if sitting down with James Patterson.

That question would be: How in the heck do you write so many darn books in such a short period of time?

And the follow-up would be: Who is helping you out with these writing chores, man?

But, that question just didn't occur to the editors?

Guess not. Because it's not asked and, thus, not answered.

Enabling bigotry

That summer and fall of 1963, I was working at Uncle Zeke's Pancake House in Wolflin Village in Amarillo.

I had worked my way up from bus boy through the dishwashing station and the grill and was a host, greeting people as they came in the front door and then seating them at the right booth or table, depending on which waitress was up next, and then giving them a menu, a glass of ice water, a placemat and silverware.

One night after the dinner rush, I heard a sound coming from the front door that I had never heard before. Someone was knocking.

Perplexed, I pushed the door open.

And standing there, hat in hand, was a black man dressed in a brown suit. Beside him were a woman and two children.

"Excuse me," he said, "but do you serve Negroes in this establishment?"

I had no idea, and the owner was gone for the day.

So, I answered him in the way I had been raised.

"Yes," I said. "Come in."

After I had sat the family in a booth in the southeast corner of the restaurant, I went to the back to find the waitress.

When she turned the corner to enter the dining room, she stopped dead in her tracks and turned to me with a face redder than her hair.

"I'm not waiting on no niggers," she hissed. "Get them out of here. Now."

I wanted to be anywhere in the universe at that moment but in Uncle Zeke's Pancake House in Wolflin Village in Amarillo.

But, I had no choice.

I can only imagine how humiliated these nice folks felt as they walked out the door and into the night -- all those fifty years ago right now.

What a bad decision looks like

Cash-strapped public officials in Miami, Fla., are about to gut their public library system.

They plan to close 22 of 49 libraries and fire 250 staffers.

This will effectively keep millions of people from having access to vital information, including the Web.

The result will not only be immediate, but also long-term.

Lack of money is the problem as Miami continues to deal with the 2008 meltdown and its aftermath, and it appears that all public services, not just libraries, will be affected.

It is hard to argue that if and when cuts are made in a fair and equitable way libraries should be exempted from the axe. Are they more vital that firefighters' or police services?

Librarians across the country are making that argument, though, including Rebecca T. Miller, editor of Library Journal. When officials fold libraries, she writes in the August issue, "They are cutting a lifelong education booster. They are cutting an economic driver. They are cutting a safety net from a culture with all too few safety nets."

True enough. But I'm wondering what the alternative might be.

I do believe libraries are vital to communities. But, I'm not prepared to make the case that libraries should be open if fire and police services are shut down.