Friday, December 28, 2007

Short and Sweet: a booklist

After struggling my way through Catch-22 recently, I needed to follow up with something shorter and easier, inspiring this booklist. It's nice to know that satisfying, enjoyable literature also comes in small packages.

Berg, Elizabeth. Joy School (208p)
12-year-old Katie moves to Missouri with her father and struggles to fit in, until she meets and falls in love with a 23-year-old married man.

Corriveau, Art. Housewrights (192p)
This New England love triangle features a town librarian caught between twin brothers in early 20th century Vermont.

Dai, Sijie. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (197p)
During Mao’s Cultural Revolution two boys, guilty only of being the sons of doctors, are sent to the countryside for re-education in the form of manual labor and Communist propaganda. The boys discover a stash of Western classics in Chinese translation which give their lives new meaning and provide a very different sort of education.

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (244p)
In 2021, bounty hunter Rick Deckard works in a world almost destroyed by war, and from which most humans have emigrated to Mars. As incentive to emigrate, people receive androids so realistic only specialized tests can detect them. Deckard needs to use these tests to find and kill increasingly sophisticated androids that have returned to Earth where they are banned. Despite being the longest book on this list, it is a quick read.

Dunn, Mark. Ella Minnow Pea (205p)
An epistolary novel about a fictional island, the birthplace of the man who coined the phrase “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” Mysteriously, the letters of this phrase on the memorial statue begin to fall off one by one, and the government decides it is a message from beyond to grave that those letters should no longer be used. A few brave souls rush to try and find another, shorter phrase using all letters of the alphabet before their language is entirely lost.

Fitzgerald, Penelope. The Bookshop (123p)
In 1959, a widow decides to use her small inheritance to open a bookshop in a small seaside town that hasn’t had a bookstore in over 100 years. Despite some success, she has few allies and much resistance to her business.

Hansen, Ron. Isn’t it Romantic (198p)
Nathalie Clairvaux is twenty-six, French, and touring America by bus. She wanted some time away from Pierre, her playboy fiancée. But Pierre finds out where’s gone and soon catches up—just in time to get stranded with Nathalie in Seldom, Nebraska, population 395. Soon Nathalie is being wooed by local rancher Dick Tupper. Pierre falls for Iona, a waitress in the local café, who’s really in love with Dick. Then there’s Owen, local gas station owner and amateur wine maker, who needs help from the wine business owned by Pierre’s family to launch his Nebraska vintage….

Irving, John. The 158-Pound Marriage (154p)
Two couples become a foursome in this daring and thought-provoking story. This early and erotic Irving novel is not for the faint of heart, but those who have read The World According to Garp will not want to miss it.

McEwan, Ian. On Chesil Beach (203p)
In McEwan’s latest book, set in the early 60s, two virgins marry and are confronted with the anxiety of their wedding night. Edward fears failure on his part, while Florence is repulsed by the idea of physical contact. Beautifully written, the novel explores desire, repression, lost opportunities, and their effects on a fragile new relationship.

Perrotta, Tom. Election (200p)
Tracy Flick is the quintessential over-achiever at her high school, taking on everything she can, including an affair with her English teacher. When she runs for school President, an idealistic teacher convinces jock Paul Warren to run against her. Paul’s younger sister Tammy also throws her hat into the ring, and the competition gets ugly. This darkly comic political satire was also a great movie.

Savage, Sam. Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife (151p)
The title character is a rat living in a bookshop in Boston's Scollay Square just before it was demolished. He is isolated from his fellow rats by his ability to read and his resulting love of literature. Turning to humans for companionship, he eventually befriends a failed science fiction writer and they live together happily. Though filled with more than most rats get to experience, it was a small life of loneliness, isolation, and an inability to communicate with the only beings who would be able to understand him, if only they spoke the same language.

Sedaris, David. Holidays On Ice (123p)
A Christmas anthology of stories and essays, such darkly humorous pieces as “SantaLand Diaries,” “Dinah, the Christmas Whore,” and “Seasons greetings to our friends and family!!!” are sure to make your holiday season more festive.

Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome (144p)
Set in the bleak, New England winter, a middle-aged man seeks help to care for his sick wife. Her cousin is hired to fill the position, and Frome finds himself falling in love with her. A tragic story of unrequited love, this short novel is a timeless classic.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Log Cabin Socks

The pattern is from Holiday Knitting by Melanie Falick, a book worth buying just to look at the gorgeous photos. I used Plymouth Tweed, which isn't as soft as I was hoping for, but apparently is pretty comfy. I do love the rustic tweediness of the yarn and would probably use it again. I actually found little bits of twig in it (which I have to assume was placed there intentionally for the effect, because doesn't yarn involve lots of processing?)

These were a Christmas present for Eric, so had to hold off posting a picture for obvious reasons. I'm glad to report that they fit!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Library holds - a black market?

The Librarian in Black has published a thought-provoking post called A Treatise on the Black Market of Holds. She says that the library hold system has created a two-class system in libraries: those who know about the system and are willing to pay fees to put items on hold, and those who don't know about it and just come into the library to browse the shelves, assuming that what they see is an accurate representation of what the library owns.

What first struck me about this post is that there are library systems that charge a fee to place holds. In Massachusetts, there is no charge to put an item on hold. This includes items at other libraries in our network. (Even an interlibrary loan coming from another state is free.) At my library, if a patron asks for a book that is currently checked out or not owned by my library, we immediately offer to put them on hold. It may not be publicized extensively, but the system is not a secret and not even close to the black market that LIB describes.

Sure, new items aren't on the shelves, but that's because of popularity, not the hold system itself. Without a hold system, those copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would still have been gone immediately. At least this way, patrons know that they will get a copy at some point rather than having to drive to the library over and over again hoping a copy will be available when they get there, before finally finally giving up and buying the damn thing instead. Come to think of it, without the hold system maybe those copies of HP would have been there - people who really wanted it would just buy it rather than going through all the trouble. Think about what that would that do to our circulation numbers.

There is a lot more to say about this, but LIB's post touches on so many issues that it would take me a week to organize a post about it all, and then it would be so lengthy that none of my 8 readers would get through it. But I do recommend reading her post, as well as the informative and interesting comments. It is a lot of food for thought.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Life As We Knew It: A Review

I love post-apocalyptic novels. They generally fall into two camps: the totally hopeless, like The Road or On the Beach, and the somewhat hopeful like Cell or the book I just finished, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. The general idea of these books is that some catastrophic thing happens - either a natural or human-sourced disaster - and those people who survive try to keep themselves alive and perhaps begin to rebuild society.

The narrator of Life As We Knew It is a teenage girl who lives with her mother and two brothers, one older and one younger than her. An asteroid is headed for the moon, and collides with such force the moon is knocked from its orbit and a ends up closer to Earth. The immediate result is a rash of severe tidal waves destroying and submerging coastal cities and islands around the world. This is followed by continuing weather disasters including volcanic eruptions (resulting from the stronger gravitational pull of the moon) which seriously affect air quality. When the asteroid first hit and it became obvious that something was really wrong, the mother had the foresight to immediately drive the kids to the supermarket to stock up on as much food and other supplies as possible. This, along with their woodstove, put the family at great advantage when food became scarce, electricity was lost, oil became unavailable, and the weather grew cold.

Many things went unexplained, such as what was actually going on around the world and if people would ultimately be able to survive. It did end on a message of hope which I like, but the bigger picture was still obscured. In a way it makes sense, as the family was so isolated they wouldn't necessarily know what was going on. Also, the story really was focused on the family and their survival and not the larger issues. Though I am tempted to think of this as a cop-out, I am reminded of the The Road, in which we have even less information about what happened to put the characters in their predicament.

What I especially liked about this book was the focus on everyday life under dire circumstances, and the relationship between the family members. Although much had changed, Miranda was still a teenage girl and still daydreamed about the boy she liked and the famous figure-skater she admired. Many worries were added to her life, of course, but she ultimately remained the same person. The diary format of the book gave it a personal feel, and it was a gripping story. Perfect for a wintery afternoon!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Have I mentioned that I can't crochet to save my life? Well my sister can, and she just mailed me this gorgeous afghan as a belated housewarming gift. It is stunning, no? The multitude of bright colors look great in every obnoxiously-painted room of this wacky house.

I once knit a small baby blanket for somebody, in a simple lace pattern of all one color. It was a fraction of the size of this afghan and it was enough to swear me off afghan-knitting forever. I think if I had the fortitude to make something of this size and complexity, I wouldn't give it to anyone. It would have to be ripped from my cold dead hands, as they say. I'm looking forward to spending my winter hibernating under this afghan with some hot chocolate, my cat, and a few good books.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Impermeable definition of the day

From Webster's Third New International Dictionary:

strobile n 1 [NL strobilus] : STROBILUS 2 : a spike with persistent overlapping bracts that resembles a cone and is the pistillate inflorescence of the hop

Uh, thanks for the clarification.

Friday, December 7, 2007


I can't decide whether or not I like how this is coming out.

It doesn't really look like the picture, but I knew it wouldn't because it's acrylic and just behaves differently. Do I keep going and hope that it will turn out fine and I will want to wear it? Do I rip it out and go with plan #2 which is the hoodie from Stitch n' Bitch, even though I don't need any more hoodies and don't look forward to miles of stockinette, but which looks like it will be snuggly enough to wear frequently? No magic answers are coming to me in dreams while I sleep.

So, I've done what any girl would do and started knitting myself a pair of socks.

I'm using the Monkey pattern from Knitty, just like every other sock knitter on the planet. I swapped something from my stash for this Tofutsies yarn. I believe the colorway is called "Those Drinks Tasted Festive Last Night." No, actually I like it, I really do. But I don't love it and I don't love the pattern, so somehow they seemed right for each other.

I'm not sure how I got so interested in socks. I think I may have inspired myself by composing this essay for my writing class. None of my other socks are so wonderful and luxurious though. I think the secret is the yarn. (If you are listening, Santa, Windsor Button sells Cherry Tree Hill sock yarn in a variety of variegated and solid colors for $20 a skein. It is expensive, but makes a fine pair of socks.)

Doctor Who Gloves non-update: the button-buying trip revealed that Eric and I have different ideas about how the mitten tops should be constructed and I don't know if what he wants is possible (at least by me), so that project is on hold pending an epiphany.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Book a Librarian

The San Francisco Public Library has recently started a great service which I hope will catch on in other libraries. Their new Book a Librarian project allows patrons to make an appointment with a librarian for in-depth help that can be difficult during a regular reference transaction. For example, this could benefit someone who is setting up their first email account and is unfamiliar with computers, or someone conducting extensive research who needs to learn how to make the most of the library's databases.

This could be especially useful in libraries like mine, which don't offer classes because there is no computer classroom. Also, now that some of us are concerned about the deprofessionalization of librarians I think this is a good way to lend more legitimacy to our positions while providing a very helpful service. We spend a lot of desk time dealing with non-reference issues like printer jams and computer sign-ups, so it would be great to spend some off-desk time offering such a personalized in-depth service.