Public libraries: Bad news, good news

Guest.Phyllis

Phyllis Guest Taking Notes

The legislature slashed state funds, but city funding cuts weren’t as bad as they could have been. Best of all, there are ways you can help keep our libraries flush with LGBT content

Back in the winter, I wrote here about problems facing our libraries (“Losing our libraries,” Dallas Voice, April 1). The theme of that piece was the enormous losses the Dallas Public Library system was likely to face if the 82nd Texas Legislature took an axe to public systems statewide.

Well, they did wield an axe — and we lost a lot of state funding. This adds injury to insult, since the city of Dallas has cut library funds drastically over the last three budget cycles.

But the recently approved 2012 budget is less austere than it might have been. City Manager Mary Suhm proposed, and the mayor and city council agreed, to fund the new branch library now under construction on Ferguson Road, to maintain the current 40 hours at other libraries and to plump up the meager materials budget.

However, the approved budget also cut more than 90 salaried positions and eliminated others.

As of Oct. 1, the number of hourly workers known as pages dropped sharply. Remaining staff and volunteers are taking on much of the work once done by pages: sorting and shelving books and other media, maneuvering heavy carts and duck-walking between the low racks of the children’s sections.

And new books are in short supply.

But that’s enough whining. Let’s get to the good news.

First I want to tell you about some terrific mystery novels with gay angles that are now available at the Oak Lawn Library. Some are just slightly bent, while others are way over the edge, and two or more are probably available at this very moment on Oak Lawn Library’s LGBT shelves.

(Unless otherwise indicated, all are available within days through the Dallas Public Library’s online catalog at Catalog.DallasLibrary.org.)

My newest discovery is John Morgan Wilson, whose main series character is a California writer named Benjamin Justice, an edgy, flawed and therefore believable guy.

The series begins with Simple Justice and proceeds through Revision of Justice. By the time the series reaches the book I just finished, Justice at Risk, Ben is living like the Blanche DuBois of Hollywood. Best you read the books in order to learn where he began and why he fell so far.

My other new discovery is Matt Beynon Rees, a Welshman who worked as a journalist throughout the Middle East for several years and, in 2006, became a full-time fiction writer living in Jerusalem.

vook-cover

YOU CAN HELP | Want to be a Book Hero? Consider buying a copy of E. William Podojil’s ‘The Tenth Man.’

The detective of his series is a Palestinian schoolteacher who cannot walk down a street without being pulled toward the most appalling crimes. The book to read is the third in this series, The Samaritan’s Secret. The plot turns on a single gay character and the effects his sexual proclivities have on all those around him.

On the hunt for more LGBT mysteries, I did an Internet search and came up with a list of recommendations for five books that sounded good.

I ordered the two that were immediately available, whipped over, picked them up, devoured them in a single weekend and thus can recommend both: R.D. Zimmerman’s Closet and Mark Richard Zubro’s File Under Dead.

The Dallas system has other books by Zimmerman, all with one-word titles, and others by Zubro, including one that is new.

But here’s the thing: The system did not have three of the recommended books, including one by Michael Nava, whom I had read years ago and had liked a lot. So I went to DallasLibrary2.org with mouse in one hand and charge card in the other, then clicked on “Support Us” and chose to “Be A Book Hero.”

A recent system upgrade allows me, you and other booklovers to make purchases at the library discount. The library contacts the bookseller and the seller sends the book directly to the Central Library downtown. Central enters it into the system, then sends the book to the designated branch and contacts the “Hero” to pick the book up.

At the same time I bought Nava’s The Little Death, I bought a book that was favorably reviewed here in the Dallas Voice: Bronson Lemer’s The Last Deployment: How a Gay,Hammer-swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq. I just received an email notice that the books await me. Purchase and processing had taken less than three weeks.

When I read and return them, they will likely stay at the Oak Lawn branch, which houses the system’s modest LGBT-specific collection.

I’m telling you all this because Dallas Public Library has zero copies of books by two other gay mystery writers who are highly recommended: E. William Podojil and Greg Lilly.

If you decide to “Be A Book Hero” to yourself and others, the recommended books are Podojil’s The Tenth Man, in which a guy’s past live-ins and other lovers are done away with one at a time, and Lilly’s Fingering the Family Jewels, in which the tale is more frightening but less suggestive than the title.

More good news: The Friends of the Oak Lawn Library just voted to spend $1,000 to freshen the LGBT collection. The $1,000 came from ongoing sales of library calendars and of gently used books or magazines.

So whether you buy the former, donate the latter or order a newbie through the system, you’re helping our whole community.

Meanwhile, there must be mysteries starring Ls, Bs, and Ts. Yes. More soon.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Top Chef’ recap (spoiler alert!)

Last night on the second episode of Top Chef All-Stars, Jen Carroll — the prickly, Asberger-like chef with the abrasive personality and the poor attitude — was kicked off, as much for her inability to acknowledge the weaknesses in her dish as for her flavorless eggs.

What seemed significant in her being kicked off to me was how local and gay chefs all dodged a bullet. There were eight chefs on Team T-Rex: Three who are queer, and three from Dallas. So, only Jen and Antonia could have gone without causing a minor stink in my office.

Still, it was a whew! moment for local Tre Wilcox, who was tagged for over-salting his sauce and Tiffany Derry (of the recently shuttered Go Fish) for inconsistency in her frittatas.

Ultimately, though, it was the right decision to axe Jen — not really because she sassed the judges (as Tom Colicchio said, being the nicest chef won’t sway them if the food is bad), but because her arrogance combined with ignorance about her own abilities made her, to me, someone not deserving of “top” titles.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones