Wherein I wonder why libraries have to have licenses for ebooks

I work for a large library system. And for a few years we’ve had an ebook collection, contracted through Overdrive.

We have a decent collection, but when we first acquired our ebooks, something which I didn’t quite understand was the concept of “licenses”. Sure, I understood the idea as it related to software. But I couldn’t fathom why that should apply to books.

My patrons have the same problem. I walked a lost soul through the thickets of ebook borrowing the other day. As I explained the parameters of library ebooks, she became more incensed.

“See,” I explained, “ebooks are like physical books. Just as we buy a certain number of copies of physical books, we buy a certain number of “copies” of ebooks. We’re buying licenses, just like for software.”

“But,” she countered, “they’re not software. They’re books, just in electronic form.”

“I agree. However, we don’t make the rules. We just have to explain the assinine rules to our patrons.”

Here’s how it works. Most publishers give you a discount on the ebooks. BUT, after 26 or so checkouts, you have to buy an entire new license. That would be like having to throw away a physical book after 26 checkouts and buy an entirely new replacement.

Some publishers don’t make you buy a new license after a certain amount of checkouts. But, to recompense themselves, they charge upwards of $80 for just one license.

These are the reasons why no library has the number of ebooks that Amazon has. It is just too expensive for a public library, with limited funds, to build an extensive ebook collection.

See how I mentioned Amazon? There’s a reason for that.

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The genesis of a librarian

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a librarian. I either wanted to be a doctor, or in the starting rotation for the Mets.

I was a skinny kid with no control, so the pitching career was out. And doctoring lost its allure for no apparent reason.

I had ideas of being an artist. A funny thing happened to that, though. As a kid, I could draw very well. But as I grew into my teenage years, and slowly uncovered my vocation for writing, my drawing skills deteriorated as my writing grew better. Of course, one could easily say that was due to the fact that I spent more time writing than I did drawing. But don’t give me that psycho-mumbo claptrap. I traded one gift for another, a gift which I used more or less all right, for a gift which has sustained me all these years. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But, there was still the matter of a career. I went into UCLA with the intention of entering its computer science program. Another funny thing happened, this time to my math and science skills: as I got better at writing, I became worse at math and science. This fact was brought home indelibly to me one quarter, where in a fit of madness I took physics and calculus at the same time. I pretty much bombed in both. That was the moment when I had to engage in serious reflection, and accept that I wouldn’t traverse the usual first-generation American trajectory of going to university and getting a degree in the sciences which would secure me gainful employment. I declared English as my major. My mother didn’t weep, and I spent the following three years very happily at UCLA.

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An apology, and a story

So, an apology for neglecting this blog for way too long. Yes, I have other duties at other blogs, and of course a non-blogging, non-Twittering life. But this will never be anywhere near a success if I don’t at least try to work at it. So, I resolve to read more about non-political life, so that I can write more about non-political life. I’m sometimes under the impression that I have something useful to say.

Therefore, a story I wrote some time ago, part of a series I began called “Dramas & Fables”, which I hope to take up again as a palate cleanser while I work on finishing editing on the novel and composing the long poem.

This is one of the “Dramas”. It’s called “Waiting for Cecily”.


Alma said, “Well, I don’t like it at all. No, not a bit. I mean, divorce is never the answer, is it? I mean, it’s against God’s law, isn’t it?”

“I guess it’s a good thing we don’t live in Iran,” her daughter, Lourdes, said.

Alma looked at her blankly. “Ay, what does Iran have to do with it? This is you! You won’t be able to take communion, ever! Not unless you get an annulment.” She kneaded the masa furiously, digging her fingers into it. “Can you get an annulment? I mean, you did marry young, didn’t you? We can tell the archdiocese that you weren’t emotionally mature.”

Lourdes, narrowing her eyes, said, “Maybe I don’t care about communion.”

Ay, ay, that was never the thing to say to Alma. “Lourdes, I’ve lost your sister. I don’t want to lose you too! It would be too much to bear! I can’t be the only one in communion with the Church. No one will be left to say Masses for me after I’m gone!”

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Father & son

He said
“I live three miles from the ocean
but I haven’t been to the shore
in three years.”
I say, “That
sounds awful.”
                 “It’s easy
to forget the things
of beauty
that abound all around you.”
I nod in agreement,
furtively looking
at my watch, eager to get home,
hoping he won’t keep me
much longer.
                 “Look out of
my window. Do you see that tree?
It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
Look how it stands, impervious
to everything we throw at it—
the city’s rot, the earth’s
malefactions. Year after year it goes
through its cycles,
the constant rebirth, until
it outlives us, gently mocking us
with its silence.

“But I forget it.
I forget it unless forced
to consider it, as your presence
has forced me to consider it.
It’s a trapping, a mere
accessory, a bit of color
that doesn’t impact me
in any way that’s significant,
except on a day like this; and
even a day like this—talking here,
sipping coffee, getting along famously—
will soon fade, be of no
matter, ebb away into the
wash of time. And that’s the way
that beauty perishes: rarely through
willful destruction,
but through mere neglect.”

I left soon after,
for the day pressed on me—
many promises to keep,
many more people to please.
I, too, live near the ocean,
and haven’t been to the shore;
and I have a tree in my backyard,
tall and glowering,
insisting on its weight,
mocking me by its age, by its
permanence, refuting my claims
to property, to earth, to life.
The world conspires against you,
not out of malice,
but because, like God,
it would say “I am what I am”.

Look at your watch; look,
and watch the hands fly.

The Genealogies – Chapter 3: Assimilating

Marcelo wondered where time dissipated.  Or, conversely, why time dug in so doggedly, trickling by in infinitesimally small drops.  Sometimes the week would drag on, day by day, each moment not a moment, but eternally long; the weekend would whiz by in a whir, surely breaking some law of physics.  Or, sometimes, it felt like both workweeks and weekends would fall, one by one, like obedient dominoes, for weeks on end, each one succeeding the other in a blur, nothing quite sticking, every day much like the next, each alike in the rapidity of its passing.  Marcelo didn’t understand time, how it could meander like the stream in Malibu Creek State Park, or rush like the Los Angeles River in flood after a storm, or seem constant like the roil of the Pacific, often simultaneously.  There were times he tried to control his perception of time, to consciously live every moment, inhabit every minute, take in the time and savor it, whatever he happened to be doing.  But time had a way of subverting his attempts, and it would quickly impose its own will with little trouble.  There was, however, one certain feeling he had:  time was inexorably passing him by; whether it did so quickly or slowly didn’t matter; if it did so quickly, he would marvel at the suddenness of it all, of how onrushing flowed the time from awakening to repose; if slowly, he would sense its slow passing, its grinding away like so much wheat being sedately milled into powder.  He was far from old, only in his early thirties; however, each year that passed saw him tacking further away from his youthful goals, his dreams remaining so, and it gnawed at him.  It didn’t gnaw enough at him for him to do anything about it, though.  It gnawed at him just sufficiently for him to feel put upon, and to elicit random, elegiac sighs.

For Marcelo, time was bifurcated, divided into “before” and “after.”  Not before Papá’s death and after Papá’s death, no, but before the family left New York and after they arrived in Los Angeles.  That was the great fissure in his life, the point at which time started over.  A lifetime had passed since the great trek westward—Mamá and Papá and Lexie and Celito and Abuela and Abuelo, catching a redeye like refugees on the last plane out of a disintegrating South American republic.  Carlos was already in Southern California by that time, having decamped for warmer climes, seeking something different, some other experience  than that offered by a cold northern city.  Carlos had hated everything about New York—the noise, the grime, the casual rudeness, the banal brutality, the bitter winters leavened by the humid, insufferable summers.  He had even bought a car—a Dodge Omni, with a barely functioning engine—just to get used to driving, because he knew he would take it one day and drive it across the continent and park it in front of Tía Evelina’s house, with a eucalyptus tree exuding its redolent oily smell, broad-leaved plants sprouting in the back yard forming a wall of green on the white fence, roses blooming in December.  He had always known he would pack up his forlorn little car with all his possessions, and drive west over the George Washington Bridge, west across New Jersey and beyond, and slough off New York’s grit like a heavy, snow-laden woolen overcoat.

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“The Genealogies” – Chapter 2, Mausoleum

Every Sunday right before July 20th—or July 20th itself if it fortuitously fell on a Sunday—Marcelo and Carlos and Lexie would gather at Mamá’s house early in the morning.  They would all bundle into one car and drive the few blocks to her church.  There was always a debate as to who would drive.  As Lexie usually had the worst car, she mercifully was excluded.  Carlos preferred larger SUV’s, so the family normally decided on his car, which he took with a resigned equanimity, being used, as the oldest child, to doing the yeoman’s work in the family.  Marcelo never understood why there was such a hubbub every year.  Oftentimes he would offer to drive, just to keep peace; their mother, however—who had never owned a car nor in fact had ever learned how to drive—always preferred going in Carlos’ truck, both for the roominess, and because customarily he  drove slowly and carefully when she was in the car, figuring that the past of least resistance led to Paradise, or at least to peace with Mamá.  Marcelo, also customarily, though he never drove more speedily than normal, also never changed his driving habits simply because one person or the other was in his car.  This included Mamá.

“You’re going to give me a thrombosis,” she would say almost always when she would get into the car with him.  Marcelo would meet that with the frustrated grunt and the eye-roll he had perfected as a teenager.

On that day, or near about it, they had their yearly appointment to hear a Mass for the dead.  Every year Mamá would arrange for Papá’s name to be mentioned in the Spanish 10 a.m. Mass when the priest asked the congregation to remember the recently and not-so-recently deceased.  Carlos—father, ex-husband, all-around decent fellow despite his torture of Marcelo when younger—would bow his tall, slightly stooped frame when that portion of the Mass would arrive—not so much out of religious conviction, but out of filial duty.  Lexie always glanced discretely at Mamá to make sure that her eyes were cast down, and then allow her gaze to wander, taking in the parishioners, some dressed in Sunday finery, others in backwards baseball caps and shorts reaching down below their knees.  Mamá would let out a phantom sob at the point in the Mass when the priest read Papá’s name.  Marcelo would stare straight ahead throughout most of the service, normally not glancing left or right, his eyes fixed on the priest, the altar-servers—no longer altar boys as they had been as recently as his youth, no, girls could now serve the Mass, which, while he considered it to be commendable, he also considered it to miss the broader point of sexual politics in the Church—the altar, the looming, bloody crucifix that seemed to always exude a pain and suffering that taunted the worshipper, diminishing him or her to the kind of insignificance one sometimes feels upon considering the vastness of the universe and the minuteness of the self.  That morbid iconography always left an impression on him that nothing anyone ever did would quite measure up to that sacrifice on a gnarled tree, and he resented the fruitlessness it suggested.  Of course, that was the point, wasn’t it?  He had concluded that any religion which posited that salvation was available only through adherence to a beaten and bloodied figure was not one for him.  Yet, every year, there he would be, in the pew, kneeling, sitting, standing, genuflecting, even going up to receive the Host.  As with his driving, it was a hard-wired habit.

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The Genealogies: Chapter 1 – “Opening”

Editor’s note: I had published this earlier on the blog, but have revised it since. I await comments.


As a boy, Marcelo often wished he had come from a more illustrious family.  He would spend time, both awake and asleep, imagining a history of audacity, with adventurers in his family tree lighting up the ages.  He would play pretend where he was a conquistador leading a desperate band into dense, impenetrable jungles, questing for gold, silver, precious jewels. (Of course, he would leave out the part of slavery. His heroes would never soil themselves thus.) He quizzed his parents about the family’s history, and aside from finding out that his great-grandparents had been immigrants from Spain—and not very grand ones, at that—he was often left with more questions, unfruitful avenues of inquiry which led him back to a reliance on his imagination to burnish those common, quotidian ancestries.  After school he would spend hours at the library, poring over books of heraldry.  Unfortunately, all the books dealth with English and French heraldry; there was not a page devoted to the Castilians. But that was of no matter, when fancy was rampant. He would invent pedigrees for himself, tracing back his stock ten or fifteen generations, going a bit further with every attempt, accreting layers of eminence.  He even invented a coat of arms for his family, cobbled together from what he found in books: a black lion rampant on a field of crimson, atop a turret of gold.  One could say that he pulled it together completely at random, but for some reason it held meaning to him. He had shown his creation to both Mamá and Papá; they, doting parents, clucked and cooed over his endeavor, hanging it on the refrigerator door; it would hang there for years, always holding a place of honor alongside the magnets gathered from vacations and notes and lists posted to one member of the household or the other.

Nothing pleased him more than reading books about his motherland’s history—his multiple motherlands, for, as a child of the 20th century, he was if nothing else polymorphous, polyglot, a child not of one world but of two or three, all vying for his attention.  Andalusia, Galicia, Marianao, Washington Heights:  the words tripped from his tongue as he imagined them, in waking dreams and dormant reality.  Crusader and Moor; cowboy and Indian; all were the same to him, all part of the skeins of his existence, the convergent, sometimes disparate histories which informed him, swirling around him in a primordial, dreamlike ooze, infecting him with expectations, beliefs, aspirations.  Would he prefer to be the Crusader or the Moor?  At that time, the Crusader; when he grew older, if he were to give thought to his juvenile self, the answer might be different.  Everything met and mixed in him, washing him up on an ocean wave, and the things which thrilled him in boyhood left him with a bad taste in adulthood.

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Ok, so let’s get this jam started again

To my legion… scad… 20 readers, I apologize for being derelict in maintaining this blog. Real life, other duties, so forth and so on.

But I’ve dived back into “The Genealogies”—my completed novel which awaits revision. I’m putting “Man in Landscape” on the back burner until I get that work done. I have the first two chapters revised, and will publish them tomorrow in the A.M. So watch this space, or my Tweet, or something.

As always, this space will be for my fiction and literary essays. My political writing is at http://www.theobamadiary.com and http://www.thepeoplesview.net. I’m not saying this blog is solely “art for art’s sake”, but it’s mostly that.

So hopefully at least a few people will hang in there with me and help me give final birth to this novel. I’ve been working on it for longer than I care to admit, and it’s time to send it out into the world.

My father the hero

So much to write down, and I can feel what time I have left passing.

My father, bless his memory, saw all this coming.

He wasn’t one to man the barricades, but he had done political work in his time. He had worked with what he always called “the good guys”, trying, as he said, “to give folks like us a fair shot.” He never begrudged anyone their wealth, and didn’t particularly want to have exorbitant wealth for himself. He wanted mere fairness, so that my sister and I could have the same opportunities as our betters.

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In Memoriam

The light goes out quickly;

it seems that so soon

the gloom of before returns.


But only if your eyes are closed.

Wide open, that memory lingers:

of light enveloping you,


giving you the clarity of sight,

of the possibilities which only

that light, her light,


could bring out. Mourn,

for the light has blinked out;

but rejoice, for the light


is eternal, suffusing

every heart, and burned

into every mind.