Wednesday, May 25, 2016

MLA Conference

I normally go to the New England Library Association Conference in the fall, but I've only ever gone to the Massachusetts Library Association Conference once, and that was just for one day. But this year I was asked to be on a panel which was scheduled for 8:30am (I didn't know the time when I agreed to it - ugh!) so I went for two days so I could spend the night there before my panel.

I went to sessions about various topics: mindfulness, desk-less reference, Girls Who Code, Wikipedia, digital impact on library spaces, and my panel on Reference in the Digital Age. Rather than summarize each of them, I'm just going to list some of my take-aways.

- Our minds wander 46.9% of the time (yay, it's not just me!)
- Learned basic mindfulness practice
- Just a few minutes a day of this for two weeks should result in improved mood and memory
- I should read 10% Happier by Dan Harris
- R. David Lankes is a guy to follow because people were quoting him all over the place
- All library staff should know: how to download content, issue new library cards, fix copier jams, checkout and renewal, and what's happening in the library that day
- Reduce service points to the smallest desks possible
- The Millis Public Library now only has one loan rule: everything goes out for two weeks, fines .10/day, and patrons love the simplicity
- Get every space in the library to work in 2-3 different ways depending on how it's used at different times of the day (flexible physical spaces were mentioned repeatedly)
- In 1984, 37% of computer science graduates were female; today it's 18%
- Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani has a TED talk that I should watch soon.
- 50-90% of physicians and 94% of medical students use Wikipedia
- Librarians should love Wikipedia because it's a discovery tool. You get lost in it, but you learn so much!
- The majority of Wikipedia editors are white, male, and under 40
- Got lots of info about editing Wikipedia articles, some guidelines and where to start

Ok, that's a hodgepodge of information! As usual, I came away wanting to do all of the things, but past experience tells me that is unlikely. I heard so many great ideas about library spaces and service that I think will be helpful as we start planning our library renovation, some from the session about digital impact on library spaces and some from my panel on reference in the digital age. I also really want us to start a Girls Who Code club, though I know there will be challenges. Attending a session on mindfulness was a surprise even to me, but the title of the session contained the word "focus" somewhere which is something I'm desperate to do. I learned a lot and will be implementing it right away! I really, really doubt I will start editing Wikipedia articles, but I think it's a lot of fun to think about.

All in all it was a really good conference. Not one session was a dud!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week is all about books that, a while after reading, your feelings develop in some way. I love this topic, because I think about it a lot, especially when I'm looking at old reviews or Goodreads ratings. Sometimes I'm quite surprised about what I thought of a book right after I finished it.

I have 10 books/series that I think much more highly of then right after I finished them:

1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
My blog review ends with "I thought it was good, and her eloquent writing elevates it a bit more, but I don't think it's a book that will stick with me." Ha! That was in March 2014 and more than two years later I still think about this book.

2. The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater
The books in this teen paranormal series are Shiver, Linger, and Forever. I gave the middle book 2 stars on Goodreads and the others 3 stars, but I keep finding myself telling people how much I liked it. Whatever was not so great about it didn't stick with me because I apparently only remember the good stuff.

3. Moloka'i by Alan Brennart
I gave this one 4 stars, but in my head it's a 5-star book all the way. I recommend it ALL THE TIME at the library. It's a shame that I didn't write a full review because it was just so amazing. Perhaps it hasn't really changing in my head and I was just conservative with my 5-stars at the time, but I don't know for sure.

4. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Here's another book I find myself recommending frequently, though I only gave it 3 stars when I read it. It was what I would call a quiet book - a lot of subtleties and not a lot of action. But I think it has stuck with me more than I expected.

5. The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology by Jack Kornfield
This is an odd one. I don't do spirituality, but I do listen to my aunt, especially when it's about books, and that's the only reason I ever picked this up. I keep wanting to re-read it actually because there was so much in it that I found useful that I want to go back and remind myself of. I gave it 3 stars, probably because it's a fun novel, but its value has grown over time as I remind myself repeatedly of the few things I do remember from it.

6. The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I am perplexed as to why I gave this book only 2 stars. It was never my favorite growing up, but as an adult I definitely appreciate it more. It's not as strong as the others in the series for sure, but as I remember it now, it made me feel a lot better about the crappiness of adulthood.

7. What You See in the Dark by Manuel Muñoz 
Another book that I was surprised to see I only gave 2 stars to. In my review I mentioned that it is dark and moody and atmospheric, and I think that's why I think of it so positively now. As with many of these books, I don't know if my feelings have actually improved over time, or if my memory has just failed.

8. Going Bovine by Libby Bray
I remember exactly why I didn't really like this when I first read it, but what I don't remember is what my coworker (a teen librarian) said about it that made me change my mind. Either way, I have much more of an appreciation for this book than when I first read it. It's very unique among teen novels.

9. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
I do enjoy some chick lit, and I remember this one quite fondly. My review and rating was pretty lukewarm at the time. Part of what made me think a bit better of it was the follow-up. I had an issue with one of the characters, but the next book centered around her and made me much more sympathetic to her. Giffin may write chick lit, but she handles some complicated situations quite well.

10. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
The finale in the Divergent series brought everything to a satisfying end, but at the time I gave it (and the second book) a lower rating than the first one. Now I can't figure out why. It was really good!

These are all books that I remember liking more than I did, and in most cases I think there was just something that bugged me while reading that was ultimately rather unimportant. On the flip side, there are a few books I remember being completely engrossed by that just didn't stick with me at all. Most notably The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. I LOVED this book, couldn't put it down, and read it in a day. By the following week, I couldn't tell you why it was so awesome (and other people I know had the same experience.) It may have just been because I consumed it so quickly rather than savoring it. But I think the important part is that it was so amazing while I was reading it. I had similar experiences, though to a lesser extent, with other books like The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan and A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. It's so interesting that we can feel so differently long after reading a book than we did upon first reading it. I wonder if anyone has scienced this yet.

Do you have any books about which your feelings have changed over time? Tell me in the comments!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Grunt

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach (2016)

In Mary Roach's new book, which will be out in just a couple of weeks, she explores the science behind day-to-day aspects of being at war. Each chapter focuses on a different topic: clothing, transport, noise, heat, diarrhea, maggots, stink, sharks, underwater disaster, sleeping on submarines, and two chapters devoted to genital injuries and reconstruction.

I learned a little bit about a lot of different things, though to be honest I think I forgot most of it instantly as I moved on to the next topic. (This isn't Mary Roach's fault.) Some parts were pretty memorable. I learned that the reason humidity is so wretched is because your sweat doesn't evaporate and can't cool you down. That maggots are incredibly effective at cleaning wounds, but aren't practical because of the associated costs. And that "On top of its other charms, the maggot breathes through its ass." I also learned that the military pays $35 a gallon for rabbit poop, which makes me regret all that we wasted when we had a pet rabbit. (Sandfly larvae feed on a mixture that includes rabbit poop.) And how a military operation could go awry from the all-too-common scourge of traveler's diarrhea, and the impracticality of zippers or velcro to a sniper.

At times it was a bit of a slog, but was still filled with her trademark humor and frequent tangental footnotes, both of which made the experience more enjoyable. It was definitely interesting, but I think the nature of the science she was looking at this time is just more....science-y than her others. Topically, I suppose it's closest to Packing for Mars in the degree of focus on hard science versus human behavior (Bonk) or an overview of all the ways cadavers are used in research (Stiff). But somehow Packing for Mars still seemed a little more fun. Perhaps because space exploration is just a more positive experience than going to war. Either way, this is probably my least favorite of her books, but that might not be the case for someone more interested in war and the military.

I received my copy of Grunt courtesy of the publisher. I was not compensated for this review.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Visible City

Visible City by Tova Mirvis (2014)

A stay-at-home mom in New York City begins spying on neighbors through their apartment window. Her absentee husband begins skipping work to do research at the public library. A young woman moves in with her parents temporarily to heal an injury but is reluctant to return to her fiancé. The lives of all these people begin to intersect in unexpected ways, ultimately forcing them to confront difficult truths in their lives.

When I received this book as a gift a couple of years ago, I was quite intrigued by the premise of people in the city all spying on each other. It's kind of what we do in cities, like it or not. Everyone is so close to each other, it's almost impossible to avoid seeing or overhearing something. We are protected by our anonymity - who cares what people see of us when they are complete strangers? But in this novel, the strangers meet and actually get to know each other.

Nina embraced the urban proximity that gave her such a close perspective on the lives of others, and when she met Leon, one of the neighbors she had been watching, she dove in. Left alone for long hours with only her children while her husband worked ridiculous hours at his law firm, she was enchanted by what seemed like comforting intimacy of the middle-aged couple she watched. Of course, real lives rarely match how they look from the outside.

Leon's wife, Claudia, was an art historian researching stained glass windows, and her work turned out to be a fairly major plot point. It tied into some construction going on that made Claudia extremely aggravated because it disrupted her work. Another character involved in this stained glass window plot was Arthur, who lived in an apartment with a dog named Churchill and was constantly writing angry notes to the other residents about proper building etiquette. I've not even lived in such a building, but this character seemed very familiar to me, and I was glad he ended up playing a larger role.

The connections between all these characters were improbable for sure, yet we do have connections we are discovering all the time, and probably many we never realize. I'm sure some people would find the intersection of characters too contrived, but somehow it really worked for me.

So many observations in this book resonated with me. When Leon came upon some protestors "...he wished their placards conveyed not the slogans written in bright, bold letters, but the quieter internal ones, such as Afraid of Change, or Need Outlet for My Anger." When Nina wanted to know more about Claudia and Leon she became frustrated that Google can't provide access to their conversations or private thoughts. Haven't you had a time when you felt an urge to Google something completely unreasonable? It does seem like we should be able to find anything we want on the internet.

The observations and insights came frequently, and I made a lot of notes while I was reading. The huge amount of fodder for discussion would make this a great choice for a book group. I'll admit that although I liked the setup from the outset, for the first several chapters it all felt a bit flat. But then somehow the characters and their lives became more full and vivid. It may just be that there were several different characters and the short chapters devoted to each meant that it took a while for them to take shape. Either way I was quite glad it came together for me, because I liked the whole idea of the story from the very start and I wanted it to live up to its potential, which it did. It gave me lots to think about!

Visible City is one of my TBR Pile Challenge titles. I don't want to brag, but I only have two books left on my list. It would be super cool if I finished this whole challenge by halfway through the year, but I don't know how likely that is.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Crown

The Crown (The Selection #5) by Kiera Cass (2016), narrated by Brittany Pressley

In The Heir, Eadlyn Shreve began her Selection to choose a husband, inviting several young men to the palace to try and win her over. When the book ended she had narrowed it down to a handful, her brother eloped with a French princess, and her mother had a heart attack. As The Crown opens, her mother is recovering and Eadlyn is forging on with the process of trying to find a husband.

I guessed/hoped early on who the lucky guy would be, but I couldn't figure out exactly how things would go to get there. A lot happened that I didn't anticipate, so I kept changing my ideas as I went along. It was super fun to keep guessing! Meanwhile a lot was going on with her family, and I also sort of assumed that she would be Queen by the end of the book so I was very worried about how that would happen. I didn't want her parents to die after I spent all that time with them in the first book. This was all very stressful for me, as you can imagine.

Eadlyn continued to mature, which was a relief after her spoiled obnoxiousness in the first book. Occasionally she'd have a flare-up, but that just kept it real. She was definitely under a lot of pressure here, what with the continued concerns about how the public perceived her, and the small matter of having to choose a guy to spend the rest of her life with. At one point she invites some regular people in for a town hall meeting, and she got a pretty strong dose of how life was for regular folks, and a bit of attitude from them as well. She was surrounded by people who respected and deferred to her that it was kind of a shock. She didn't have as much control over her Selection process as she'd like either, so she definitely had some struggles here. I really just wanted her to find happiness and success. I knew it would all end well, but I really worried about how that would happen.

I loved this series from start to finish. I was just enthralled! The Selection is a big fancy deal with its romance and fancy dresses and wooing, but the stakes are pretty high for the people involved and there were just so many characters I cared about! I listened to all of the books on audio and both narrators were very good and I ran so many miles on the treadmill while listening to this series. It made unpleasant exercise easy, and that's not something I can say about many audiobooks.

This is the end of the series, though there could totally be more books. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, but I'd really like to see how things go in the future for this country and its royal family.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Top Ten Books I Picked Up on a Whim


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Ten Books I Picked Up On A Whim (however you decide to interpret that.) I don't pick up many books on a whim without knowing anything about them, so I'm interpreting it as any books that I didn't plan to read. Books that I impulsively picked up immediately after reading one good review, or books that I didn't know about until my book group picked them. These are the ones that fall into those categories and that I really liked, and are in no particular order. As usual, links go to my reviews.

1. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
A book group pick, I had never heard of this book or author before I started reading. I was a bit wary for the first few chapters, but then it really picked up. An excellent dark psychological crime novel.

2. Walter: the Story of a Rat by Barbara Wersba, illustrated by Donna Diamond
This comes the closest to a true whim - I saw it on a coworker's Staff Picks shelf and grabbed it, never having even heard of it before. It's a book for kids, but don't let that stop you. It's an adorable and heartwarming story.

3. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
The publisher sent a galley of this one to me and as soon as I saw that it was a dystopia, I pretty much ate it up. I loved the world Bow created, and I'm looking forward to book 2, which will be out in the fall.

4. The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
Another book group pick, I think I had heard of this one before but didn't know anything about it really. A crime novel with an unusual premise - it's centered around two women, who as young girls were responsible for another child's death - I found it totally captivating.

5. Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm
My book group is really great at picking excellent books I know nothing about. I had heard of this one because I received a galley of it, which I immediately passed on because I was reading other things and it just didn't look very interesting. I'm so glad my book group recommended it!

6. Asking For It by Lilah Pace
This was an impulse buy for my nook after hearing about it on a podcast. It's an erotic romance novel with a pretty dark premise and a cringe-worthy title, but it's very well executed.

7. The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski
I read about this on a blog and immediately, impulsively requested it through interlibrary loan. It's a great little novella about time travel from the 1950s to the Victorian era.

8. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel
Here's another that I received as a galley from a publisher. I get a decent number of galleys, but only read a few. I'm glad I read this one - it's a novel that reads more like an interconnected set of stories, all revolving around culinary talent Eva Thorvald. Required reading for foodies.

9. The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin
I had never heard of this book until I received it as a gift from a friend. It begins with a young artist dying at the age of 18, and tells the story of her rise and fall through interviews, photos, art, and other ephemera. Unusual and really fantastic.

10. Level Up by Cathy Yardley
Another nook impulse buy, this short contemporary romance novel centers around some video game designers. In addition to the romance, there are some great female friendships and interesting themes about women in male-dominated professions.

What about you? Have you discovered any great books that you read on a whim?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (1598)

I've just finished the third play for the Bardathon Challenge, and the first of two comedies. Much Ado About Nothing is two love stories twined together with some double-crossing and mistaken identities and lots of witty repartee.

Claudio and Hero want to get married until he is led to believe that she has been carrying on with another man like some sort of wanton hussy. Then she faints and her family pretends she is dead so they can see who feels guilty about the deception. Meanwhile another couple, Beatrice and Benedick, are constantly at each other's throats, and obviously totally attracted to each other. Both are determined not to get married at all, and as they sling insults back and forth others step in to trick them into admitting their attraction.

Reading a comedy was a relief after all of the murder and killing of Macbeth and Hamlet. I was already familiar with Shakespearean insults but it was great to read so many in context. This play really was very funny. A constable named Dogberry (and that's not even the funny part) was called an ass at one point, and goes into this whole speech in which he kept interjecting that he is an ass: "But masters, remember that I am an ass, though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass." And in the following scene reminds everyone again, "And, masters, do not forget to specify, when time and place shall serve, that I am an ass." As with the other Shakespeare plays I've read, the plots aren't fantastic, but I guess it's all about the language which is both appealing and vexing.

I've stuck with the Folger edition for this play as well. I tried an Arden again, but although they come so highly recommended, I just find the format very hard to read. Each page has a small amount of text and more than half of the page is footnotes, which seems less orderly than the Folger editions, which have the text on the right and explanations on the left. I was also looking at some No Fear Shakespeare editions, which instead of definitions and explanations have "regular language" text on the facing pages. I think I'd rather have the explanations, but I can see how those editions could be very helpful as well.

I only need to read one more play to complete my goal for the challenge, and the one I've chosen is A Midsummer Night's Dream. I keep feeling inclined to pick it up, but I want to wait until summer for the proper atmosphere. Recently I checked out a copy of Shakespeare's complete sonnets, but the most famous one ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?") was ripped out of the book, so I returned it to the library (and we're replacing it.) But I may try some sonnets again in the future since those are less about plot and more about language, which is what he really excelled at.

I've also learned that the Museum of Fine Arts will be presenting a production of Cymbeline this summer, so that might be the performance that I will attend for the challenge. If so, I will want to read the play before going. And the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company will be performing Love's Labour's Lost on Boston Common this summer. I'm not a big fan of the crowds that will be there, but perhaps I'll convince myself (and probably a friend) to attend one of these performances as well.