This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, August 25, 1999

August 25, 1999 - Connie Willis at Book Club

My mother used to tell me that her favorite poem was "O Captain, My Captain," by Walt Whitman. At least, it HAD BEEN, until some smart-aleck English teacher announced that the subject of the poem was Abraham Lincoln. Utterly shocked, my mother went back to the poem and pored over it. Not a word about Abraham Lincoln.

It left her suspicious of poetry for the rest of her life. If she could have met Whitman, she said, she would have asked him how come he couldn't have just said what he meant.

One of my favorite poems, much of which I committed to memory when I was 12, is "The Raven," by Edgar Allan Poe. "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary..." For sheer lugubriousness, it has no equal.

So I was pleased, then entranced, then amused, when I ran across a piece Poe had written some time later about how he'd gone about writing "the Raven." The rhyme scheme, the line length, the choral elements ("Nevermore") the subtext ("that rare and radiant maiden...Lenore"), indeed, every syllable had been carefully and consciously chosen.

It made a pretty good story, until suddenly I realized it was all hogwash. In my experience, people can only do that kind of thing after the piece is written. They certainly don't do it before.

To a lesser extent, the same is true of prose. On one level, there's a story. But sometimes, when you know the author, you begin to glimpse part of the deeper structure of a book, something that helps you understand both it, and the person who wrote it.

For instance, I know Connie Willis, who has won more Nebula and Hugo Awards than anybody, ever. (Those are the top two awards in science fiction, and she's won six apiece.) Locus Magazine just named her Best Science Fiction Author of the Nineties. Among her award-winning novels is "Doomsday Book," a time travel tale set simultaneously in the Middle Ages and the not-too-distant future.

I happen to know that Connie's father died when she was young. I also happen to know that she's a devout Christian. But it was only when I was reading the first draft of her book when I realized that the deep meaning of "Doomsday Book" was a longing -- through difficult times -- for the absent father. It added a resonance to my appreciation both of the book and of Connie.

But wouldn't it be great, after finding a book that you love, if you could dredge up the author and make him or her account for it, clear up the parts that didn't make sense, ask if there weren't really something else going on there in chapter 6, and so on?

Well, thanks to the Douglas Public Library District, you can. Connie recently published another book, "To Say Nothing of the Dog," again a time travel tale, but this one set in Victorian England. It's a charming, funny, and erudite love story.

One of the district's many book clubs is the Philip S. Miller Senior Book Discussion group. On September 13, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., not only will folks be talking about "To Say Nothing of the Dog," Connie Willis will join them.

The public is invited to attend. The event is free. It would be polite to read the book first, though. It is available from your local library and area bookstores.

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