Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ten books I want to read again

I'm not generally a re-reader. Sure, I've read a few things over  and over again - the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, The Perks of Being a Wallflower - but mostly I try to make time for things I haven't yet experienced. There's so much out there!

Recently I've had an unusual desire to reread some books. I think it might be because I know they're good and somehow that seems more appealing than reading something that might or might not be good. Certainty can be comforting. In some cases it's been so long that I barely remember the books, but only remember how much I liked them.

When I began this post, I worried that I wouldn't be able to come up with 10, but once I got thinking I came up with so many that I had to whittle it down.

Here are the top 10 books (in no particular order) that I want to read again and the reasons why:

1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: I loved it and that's basically all that I remember.
2. Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty: I want to re-experience my love for Marcus Flutie.
3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I've read all her books now and this one was still the best, and it's been a very long time since I read it.
4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: Because it's still the best Dickens.
5. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: Not long ago I read a nonfiction book about the summer that inspired the novel, and also I haven't read it since high school.
6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: I didn't like it, but I should. I'm willing to try again.
7. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: I didn't read the second one and then when the third came out I couldn't remember the first. I want to start with this one and read the whole trilogy.
8. The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian: I read it when it first came out and I've never stopped thinking about it.
9. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban: I haven't stopped thinking about this one either. That voice just pops into my head when I least expect it.
10. The World According to Garp by John Irving: It was one of his first books I read, and I loved it.  As much as I always love reading his writing, nothing has quite measured up to these early novels.

Whether or not I actually read these again remains to be seen, but they are the ones I keep thinking about.

Do you re-read? What's on your list?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

War and Peace: Progress report 2

I'm now around halfway through War and Peace and I'm happy to report that it has become less complicated and mystifying, and both the French and the explanatory endnotes have thinned out a bit. Although I appreciated it from the beginning, it has become much more enjoyable now that I don't feel like I'm cramming for a history exam.

When a book is this long, I sort of assume it will include lengthy, boring descriptions or other such filler, but not so here. There are some beautiful descriptions to be sure, but also there is a hell of a lot of things happening with the characters. It has become quite a page-turner!

Several characters are young and marriageable which, as you can imagine, leads to a great deal of intrigue. There is Pierre, the illegitimate son of a Count, who was raised in France and then inherited his father's wealth, making him suddenly appealing to the aristocracy. He is rather awkward and lost, trying to find his way in life and looking for something to inspire him. Natasha Rostov is an impassioned young woman who can't decide who she is in love with, but whatever she feels at the moment, she feels strongly. One of my favorite characters is Marya, a devout young woman who is aging out of the marriageable range and living under a domineering father. He is really cruel to her, and she is constantly willing to sacrifice her happiness and martyr herself for the greater good. Eventually something will have to give and I really hope she is able to come into her own as the strong, wise woman she has the potential to be.

There is just so much to discuss in this book! In class we've had extensive conversations about such subjects as dueling and Freemasons. The instructor continues to be fantastic. She is also fascinating in her own right. A poet and a dissident, many of her family members killed by Stalin, she is incredibly knowledgeable and expresses strong opinions about Putin. Sometimes I can't help but think, "To hell with Tolstoy - tell me more about you!"

This experience is all even better because I'm taking the class with two of my friends. As I mentioned, I'm not the only person in my social circle dorky enough to sign up for a War and Peace class. Every week we all go to class and then have dinner together nearby. It's only for eight weeks, but I'm really getting used to it. Only four more classes and 600 pages to go!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Knitting

I rarely do colorwork so I'm very excited about my new project. Here's a glimpse.

It's actually very easy. The color pattern is created by using slip stitches, so I'm only ever using one color at a time. It creates a very satisfying pattern though, doesn't it?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Whose Body?

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (1923)

When a body is found in a bathtub, Lord Peter Wimsey must not only determine the identity of the killer, but also that of the victim. He was wearing nothing but a pince-nez, and appeared around the same time as the London financier Sir Reuben Levy disappeared. Is this two mysteries, or one? Enlisting the help of his friend Inspector Parker, his resourceful manservant, Bunter, and even his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, Wimsey is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Reading a book written so long ago is a rather different experience than reading a historical novel, that is, a novel written now about a former time period. The author of a historical novel would feel a need to provide context and explain the unfamiliar. But here, we're just plopped in the middle of a very different period and left to figure it out ourselves. It's not difficult - this isn't a big novel filled with complicated political and military references (see: War and Peace) but rather a short and simple story of a particular mystery. But still, I noticed things: the use of the apostrophe in 'bus, for instance, which reminded me that it used to be a longer word. Or the uncomfortable discussions of the missing Mr. Levy, who is repeatedly referred to as "the Jew" and described as "Hebrew." I kept cringing and expecting anti-Semitic commentary which, thankfully, never came. But obviously, cultural sensitivity changes through time so it can be a bit jarring - and educational - to read older books.

Wimsey was an enjoyable character in many ways. I like his habit of ending a sentence with "what?" as in, "Hate anything tiresome happenin' before breakfast. Takes a man at such a confounded disadvantage, what?" He also took great delight in everything about the case. "I love trifling many man have been hung by trifling circumstances." Although it was a decent story on its own, it was really Wimsey's character that makes it stand out.

I've heard of Dorothy Sayers and knew she was a well-known and loved mystery author, but never picked up one of her books until now, when we chose Whose Body? for book group. It was a fun little whodoneit, which I found all very charming and British. It was short and easy, a great counterpoint to the mammoth and complex other book I'm reading right now. If you're looking for a easy but entertaining mystery, I bet this would fit the bill.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

NELA 2014

Hey! It's time for my annual summary of the New England Library Association Conference. Here are the sessions that I attended this year.

Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom
This was sort of what it sounded like. The presenter began by telling us that YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan for two years and showed a video of Pakistanis hugging a YouTube mascot and begging it to come back. She talked about the assumption that technology makes everything more democratic and open, and the reality that democracy is eroded by surveillance. This was an interesting topic and she was a good speaker, but the session began at 8:30 and I'm afraid I wasn't quite awake enough to appreciate it as I should have.

Mixing It up for Millennials: Programming for 20- and 30-Somethings
Representatives from three different libraries shared stories of successful programs for younger adults. The Nashua, NH public library hosted A Night Out for 20-somethings, an after-hours event in which lots of vendors and organizations set up tables and the library made their space atmospheric with dim lighting and a piano player. The vendors included visual arts groups, music schools, a fabric/yarn store, a church singles group, and a sports shop. The library had a booth with information about downloading ebooks, a chocolate tasting, and Cards Against Humanity. It sounded like a great event that would be especially helpful to new post-college folks moving into the area.

The Haverhill, MA public library shared several programs they organized, but the most interesting is their Get Lit book group, which takes place at a local bar. It's pretty well known so I had heard about it before and it was great to learn more about it. They use social media pretty heavily and have had a lot of success reaching out to authors on Twitter, and even have lots of Get Lit swag. Libraries tend to shy away from alcohol-related events, which I kind of think is a shame. There's an assumption that any booze will lead to extreme drunkenness and problems, but this is not the case with this group.

Finally, a librarian from the public library in Peabody, MA told us about a whole wealth of programs they put on. Many were instructional, like beer brewing, coffee roasting, and meditation, but they also have a film discussion group and several book groups. They rely a lot on the talents of their staff who can teach lots of interesting skills, but they also do a lot of grant-writing. Interestingly, they have an adult programming advisory board, which I think is a fantastic idea. Most libraries have advisory groups for teen programming, so why not for adults as well?

NERTCL Luncheon with Peter H. Reynolds
This luncheon was sponsored by the section focused on children and teens, so it was no surprise that I was unfamiliar with this author and illustrator of picture books. But now I will be checking out some of his books for sure. He shared one call The Dot, in which a kid is convinced that she can't draw, but when pressed she makes a dot, and then decides she can make a nicer dot, and so on until she feels confidently artistic. It's pretty great! He was also just a funny, dynamic speaker. (I can't say much positive about the food, unfortunately.)

Reconnect with Readers' Advisory through LibraryReads
My library supports LibraryReads, in that one person in my department has been maintaing a LibraryReads display, so I thought it was high time I figured out what this was all about. Also, I know (and admire) one of the presenters and was especially interested to hear her speak. LibraryReads publicizes a list of ten new books every month that librarians are excited about. In this session, we learned how to get involved by requesting advance copies, nominating titles we love, and writing blurbs. They also talked about how LibraryReads benefits us when we participate, which was what I really needed to hear. I already had an Edelweiss account but have never ever requested a book through it, so I'm very happy to now be reinspired to use it.

Stand Up & Shout: The Youngish Leader on Changing Direction
A lot has changed in library leadership recently, and the path from newly-minted librarian to director can be short and swift. Two young library leaders shared their experiences and provided valuable advice about taking on a leadership role when you feel unprepared for it. I'm not necessarily interested in being a library director (nor am I especially young anymore) but again, I knew one of the presenters and was especially interested in what he had to say. My biggest takeaway from this session is that you are never ready for a director job until you are in it - no other library job is like it, so there's just no way to prepare other than just to do it. The presenters do advise to use experiences like committee work to help build skills, and to "fake it 'til you make it." The two guys presenting met during leadership training and make a great team. They were funny and inspiring and full of good advice. I don't think I'll be applying for any director jobs soon - I really like my job - but it doesn't seem so impossibly out of the question anymore.

This year I attended NELA for just one day, which I don't like as much as staying for the whole thing. I had to get up super-early, and didn't have the benefit of a nearby hotel room for emergency cat naps. And of course I missed out on all the after-hours fun. But I learned a lot, got inspired, and met up with some librarians who I really like a lot but rarely get to see.

It was a little bittersweet, because my library director recently announced that he's moving out-of-state. He's very involved in the profession and well-known around here, so of course everyone I talked to at the conference asked me about his departure and the open position. There are very many open library director positions right now, so I've been a bit worried about our ability to fill it well. Although I'm still sad that he's leaving, it was very heartening to hear that our library is such a desirable place to work and there seems to be a lot of interest in that job. Hopefully that means we'll get another great director!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Knitting

Here is my finished Huntress Shawl, with its little fox face.

But I'll probably wear it as a scarf, more like this.

This was an easy project that went quickly. You begin with the center panel, and use yarnovers to make the fox head. Then, stitches are picked up on each side and knit toward each end, decreasing until it tapers to just a few stitches before binding off. The Huntress Shawl pattern is from the Fall 2012 issue of Knitscene. The yarn, Cascade 200 Superwash, is just from my stash. I always like working with Cascade of any sort.

I don't recall why I bought this particular yarn, but I rarely buy any without specific plans in mind. Nevertheless, my stash has gotten a little out of hand, mostly just from project leftovers. So yesterday I went through and pulled out enough to fill two large bags and offered it up on Freecycle. What I have left is mostly sock yarn and it's far more manageable. I also found a few things I didn't realize I had, which was especially surprising since I keep a spreadsheet of all my yarn.

I'm still working on Pianissimo, but now I've also started a couple of socks as well. I'll share photos of those soon!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Stay Awake

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon (2012)

Have you ever read a really good book and several days later when you try to tell someone about it, you can't even remember what it was about? That's how I feel about Dan Chaon's book of short stories, Stay Awake. Granted, collections are a little tougher anyhow because there are so many different plots and characters, but all that has really stuck with me are the feelings they evoked.

Some bits and pieces I remember: a guy who is haunted by his former family who he wronged, and whose new young son is having terrible nightmares; a couple whose newborn has an extra head; a guy who keeps finding mysterious notes everywhere that seem to be trying to tell him something; children murdered by their parents. Two of the stories feature men who each lost a finger by falling off a ladder.

They aren't horror exactly, but they are dark and unsettling. There's always a feeling that something is not quite right and you can't see what it is, but it's just out of the corner of your eye and you'll know the full, terrible truth in just a moment. They are all completely unnerving.

Chaon's writing is vivid and precise, and he neatly conveys all of the most unpleasant feelings that exist in humanity in one convenient volume. As with all great short stories, a lot is conveyed in few pages, and in these stories whole lifetimes of guilt and fear can be read in a half hour. At first, I read one story every day or so. But then I read the last four in a day, and that was a bit too much weirdness and discomfort to be enjoyable. So, pace yourself.

Am I exaggerating? You be the judge. After all, October is the perfect time to delve into the strange and creepy. You might not enjoy these stories exactly, but you won't soon forget them.