Thursday, December 22, 2011

Shocking Product Placement

The last time I blogged about “lightning rods,” we were talking counterrevolutionary icons in Marie Antoinette’s France.  This is not that kind of lightning rod.

Helen DeWitt’s newest book has gotten juicy reviews, and with good reason.  Because this is a family-friendly blog, I’ll describe the plot as delicately as I can: a salesman tries selling Encyclopedia Britannica and Electrolux vacuum cleaners, and fails.  Then he tries selling something a little more risqué -- “Lightning Rods” -- to small companies, and viola: success!  As another reviewer has said, “let's just say it's about an innovative solution to a workplace challenge and that this innovation is controversial.”  It’s these risqué bits that have gotten Lightning Rods so much attention, and sure enough, the story is shocking and fun for those who enjoy that kind of thing.  But the joke’s on the reader, because these parts of the story are written in such a matter-of-fact, utilitarian way that they don’t ultimately satisfy in the way you might expect.  As the leading lady, Elaine, would say, “It’s a lot like going to the toilet.”

And that’s the point.  Lightning Rods is not really meant to titillate, but rather to satirize the absurdity of a corporate sales culture in which the weirdest things slide in the spirit of turning a profit.  The story follows the same arc as those nineteenth century American novels that have scrappy little shoeshine boys pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to make a living in the land of opportunity.  Sales!  Progress!  But, asks Lightning Rods, what happens when we stop talking about shoes and start talking about other, more morally ambiguous, stuff?  DeWitt especially shines when she deadpans about the techno-rational focus groups, test cases, and scientific studies (with baboons!) that we use to justify obviously terrible sales choices.  Lightning Rods is bawdy, yes, but more than that, it’s just hilarious.

Finally, Lawrence readers will appreciate DeWitt’s Kansas City vignette, in which the protagonist, Joe, travels to the Big K to open up his second office.  There he sees a dwarf on a bus reading John Foster Dulles (“JFD”), and has this epiphany about Kansas:

"Joe was wondering why it was that Kansas had never acquired a reputation for being strange. If somebody can go around calling John Foster Dulles JFD and nobody bats an eyelash you have to ask yourself what are the rest of them like?  And no sooner had he asked himself why word hadn't gotten out than the answer came to him, just like that. The reason nobody knew about it was that normal people never came to see what was going on. Not realizing what the state had to offer they went elsewhere for their kicks. People from out of state tended not only to be but to stay just that: out of state."

Lightning Rods is not DeWitt’s The Last Samurai, and it’s not Nicholson Baker’s classic erotic workplace novel Vox, but it is a pretty perfect little piece of corporate satire.  Recommended for anyone who needs a little break from office culture.

Rachel - Programs

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gurl Talk

Here’s a fun fact: Katy Perry’s fans refer to themselves as “Katy Kats.” I gleaned this info off an SUV I’ve noticed parked around my neighborhood.  This vehicle has been painted sky blue and cotton candy pink and is bedecked with a giant rendering of Ms. Perry’s head. It’s really something else. Hats off to the crew over at Maaco.

As further evidence that Katy Perry is the pop starlet of the day (when you can't get Lady GaGa) she was recently given a hosting gig at Saturday Night Live. She did a respectable job with her skits, but apparently wasn’t up for the double-duty of host/performer (Britney Spears managed it - twice). The musical guest that evening was instead, Robyn. Do you remember her? In the 90’s she had a big hit with “Show Me Love” but since then has kept mostly to the dance charts. I had sort of forgotten about her until I saw the SNL performance (it gets real funky at 2:35). I was floored by what a wonderful little weirdo she is. She was wearing what I think was a girdle over spandex pants and had her white hair trimmed into a fetching bowl cut. Her moves were like a fly girl doing interpretive charades. It sounds like a mess, but she's fantastic – so fantastic she merited a send-up by some members of the cast.

I’m probably late to the conversation about Robyn, since her official video for “Call Your Girlfriend” has nearly two million views and the track was nominated for a Grammy a couple weeks ago. But in case you haven’t seen it, I’ll post the video below (warning: some of her gyrations are suggestive). You can borrow the album Body Talk here at the library.  Now if only there was a cute animal name for Robyn's fans.

Ransom - Reference

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Few More of Our Favorite Things

Name and department:
Rachel, Adult Programming Librarian

Staff Pick:
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

What’s an alternative title you would give the book?
The Metaphysics of Family

Summarize the book in one sentence:
Bizarre magical elements take a mundane little story about teenage girl angst into the realm of the inexplicable, the confusing and the sublime.

I would not recommend this book to my mother because...
It's just too weird. My mom is a straight-shooting cowgirl who grew up on an Idaho ranch, and she likes nonfiction and adventure stories. This book is a little too precious and twee for her tastes--although I'm sure she'd give it a fair shot!

Name and department:
Tricia, Tech Services Coordinator

Staff Pick:
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

What’s an alternative title you would give the book?
Self Awareness in the Jungle

Summarize the book in one sentence:
A scientist goes outside her comfort zone to embrace adventure.

I would recommend this book to my mother because...
I liked the characters and the plot was completely engrossing. I had a hard time putting it down!

Name and department:
William, Adult Services

Staff Pick:
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

What’s an alternative title you would give the book?
Love in the Time of Dystopia

Summarize the book in one sentence:
A thought provoking, and kind of startling, look at how our focus on commercialism, capitalism, and youth can and may lead to the deterioration of the individual to clueless, superficial droids obsessed with pleasure and living forever.

I would not recommend this book to my father because...
Shteyngart’s imagining of the dystopian world might catch is interest, but he’s not much of a reader. He’d probably like a film adaptation, though.