Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sweetheart Socks

Can you tell that one of the socks has one more pattern repeat on the foot? I’m not sure how I screwed that up considering I counted to make sure. But I wasn’t about to rip back and re-do it and get it right because the important thing is that the socks are done and I can move on with my life. I mean, they are totally wearable after all.

Pattern: Sweetheart Socks by Chrissy Gardiner, from Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts 2007
Yarn: Regia, 2 skeins
Needles: Addi Turbos size 0
Started: January 22
Finished: June 24

Last weekend I was supposed to go camping but it rained, so I was left with a 4-day weekend and no plans. So after finishing up these socks I devoted some time to darning holes in a few others. Not as fun as camping, but I did make some s'mores in my kitchen. Hopefully by fall I’ll have a whole drawer full of wearable socks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thing 2

(To my regular readers, later this week I’ll have an exciting post on a knitting project so stay tuned!)

Thing 2 of CPD 23 is to investigate other blogs and comment on them. I do this all the time anyhow, so it’s not new to me. I did check out the blogs of other participants, of which there are over 500! Since there are so many I just picked out a few with interesting titles. It seems most of the participant blogs were started for this program so there is little to read or comment on so far.

But some seem promising or are already well-established. Here’s a short list of some of the blogs I thought worthy of note:

Reading True

Organising Chaos
Join the mass debate with Auntie Daniel
Joy’s Book Blog
Jill of all trades, master of none
In which…
Dumpling in a Hanky
Dots & Loops
Dreaming in the stacks

My regular favorites are of course listed in my sidebar. Sal from Already Pretty posts a list of fun and interesting links every week, and just turned me on to The Dewey Decimals, “a style blog for bookworms.” Maybe it’s a little off-topic, but I think it’s worthy of inclusion among the library links!

What are your favorite library or book themed blogs?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Road trip!

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (2010)

There is nothing like the freedom of driving the open road with no plan and someone else’s credit card. But Amy’s not looking forward to her cross country drive. Just three months ago her father was killed in an accident and now her family is relocating from California to Connecticut. Tasked with bringing the car across country, Amy - who now refuses to drive - will be accompanied by Roger, a college student and friend of the family. Initially awkward around each other, Amy and Roger slowly begin to get along, soon deciding that the mapped-out route from Amy’s mom is boring, so they decide to go a completely different way. That’s where the fun begins! As you can guess from the cover, there is a budding romance between Amy and Roger, and it is well worth the wait.

And it IS a wait – both characters are struggling to deal with issues that overshadow any romantic feelings they may have for each other. Amy has been unable to open up about her father’s death and the guilt she feels about it. To make matters worse, her twin brother is in rehab which is just one more secret she must carry around. These burdens weigh heavily on her during the trip, and she shuts out Roger’s friendliness for quite a while. Roger is still trying to work through the end of his relationship with his girlfriend Hadley, and part of the road trip detour is his effort to track her down and talk to her about what happened between them. Watching Amy and Roger both work towards acceptance and help each other to move on was sweet and touching and, in a way, watching their friendship slowly blossom was more satisfying than the usual chemistry-and-hormone laden relationships in young adult novels (though I love those too!)

The road trip aspect of the book is pretty awesome. They experience so many different places, like Yosemite, Graceland, and Highway 50 (“the loneliest road in America,”) and most importantly they EAT in all of the places they drive through. Their fare is somewhat limited to fast food, but there is apparently a wide regional variety of burgers in the US. (Especially interesting was NuWay Burgers in Kansas, boasting the motto “Crumbly is good.”) Most fun of all, the book is filled with photos, journal entries, drawings, receipts, and play lists. It’s so fitting, like a big road trip scrapbook.

It turns out Amy and Roger’s trip was based on a cross country trip the author took, and the photos included in the book are from her trip. If you’ve been hankering to hit the road yourself, you may find that Amy and Roger’s adventure is so satisfying it’s really the next best thing to taking a road trip for real. This is the perfect summer novel, so be sure to pick it up soon!

Friday, June 24, 2011

23 Things for Professional Development

Recently I saw a post from booksNyarn about 23 Things for Professional Development. I am always looking for professional development opportunities and although I try to read about it on my own, I am better with structure. This will give me specific topics to write about and an opportunity to learn new things. Hooray for learning! Thing 1 is Blogs and Blogging: “Write a post about why you're taking part in the course.”

If you’ve been reading this blog since I started it in 2007, you may remember that it began as a Thing from 23 Learning 2.0 Things. One of the original purposes of my blog was to discuss professional issues but I have been lax recently. For the past two years, my professional life has consisted of being laid off, job hunting, and working an unsatisfying non-professional job. There are certainly topics I could have written about, but to be honest living it has been more than enough.

But now all that has changed. I have finally secured gainful employment again and my professional focus can return to more typical topics and issues. My new job as an Adult Services Librarian in a public library will involve a wide range of activities and subject matter. Anything can happen at the reference desk and one of the things I enjoy most about that sort of work is the sheer variety of topics I come in touch with on any given day. I’ll be doing collection development in several areas, as well as readers advisory, social networking, community outreach…well, lots of stuff! I’m sure many of the Things covered in this program will be relevant so I’m just looking forward to learning everything I can.

I know that my readers aren’t all librarians, but I hope I will touch on topics that are helpful to you as well – some examples of the upcoming topics are personal branding, mentoring, professional advocacy and publishing, as well as a variety of online applications for social networking, document storage, podcasts and other fun things.

I’m off to a bit of a late start, but hopefully I’ll catch up soon!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Imperfectionists : a review

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (2010)

In Tom Rachman’s debut novel an international newspaper in Rome struggles to stay afloat amidst the challenges of modern publishing and its own poor management. In each chapter the reader is introduced to one character associated with the paper, followed by a short chapter from the early startup days. Along the way we meet Arthur Gopal, obituary writer, completely unambitious until his family is struck by tragedy. Paris correspondent Lloyd Burko grasps at straws in his effort to write a story the paper will run, while trying to reconnect with his estranged son. Ruby Zaga a bitter (and I am convinced, slightly mentally ill) copy editor is convinced she is about to be fired. Perhaps my favorite character was a dedicated reader of the paper, Ornella de Monterecchi, who was so intent on reading every word of every issue that in 2007 she was still reading papers from 1994.

The Imperfectionists was not what I expected. I anticipated a story defined by its Italian setting, but the artchitecture and culture took a back seat to the colorful lives of the characters, which were the real heart of this novel. They were a strangely compelling lot. I didn’t like most of them – I certainly wouldn’t want to be a coworker or friend of any of these people - but I couldn’t get enough of spying on them from afar.

As you would expect, the shift of focus in each chapter prevented a typical story arc, but it felt neither disjointed nor unfocused. Each character’s chapter contributed to the overall narrative in a cohesive way, feeling more like an addition than a shift. This novel was less a traditional story with a beginning, middle, and end than a large and detailed picture of that particular time in the newspaper’s life, but with enough background that you have some understanding of why the situation is the way it is. The pacing was steady though, so even though there was little forward momentum, it felt like there was.

The last couple of chapters had rather abrupt upsetting endings and although I was just getting to know the characters, this created a strong emotional impact. And this is the beauty of Rachman’s writing: his ability to draw the reader in immediately, make us care about a character within the first page, and not want to let them go.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tipping the Velvet : a review

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (1999)

From the oyster houses of Whitstable to the music halls of London, teenager Nancy Astley comes of age in Victorian England in Sarah Waters’ remarkable first novel. Nancy is perfectly content working in her family’s restaurant and spending her free time visiting nearby music halls, but when she sees a performance by male impersonator Kitty Butler, her life changes forever. Nancy immediately falls in love with Kitty, befriends her, and eventually moves away with her to help out in her act. Just friends at first, their relationship turns to romance, but Kitty folds under the pressure of living a secret life. After their dramatic break-up, Nancy journeys through the fascinating underbelly of London society as she dons a suit and works as a male prostitute, spends a year as a woman’s sex slave, and joins up with a brother and sister team of socialists.

Waters was an academic before she was a novelist, and it shows. Her attention to details of the period, such as the slang, make her story feel unusually real. Descriptions are lush and rich such as the wonderful parts about the restaurant and the process of preparing oysters, Nancy’s first impressions of the unsavory Dead Meat Market, and the lavish parties thrown at Diana’s mansion. I’ve never read a depiction of Victorian times that included this underworld of illicit sex, lesbianism, and male impersonation but considering the author’s background I suspect it’s based on reality.

Nancy was a very sympathetic character who goes through many changes throughout the book, and it’s hard not to feel her pain and loss. The most upsetting part, I think, was the disintegration of her relationship with her family. Nancy didn’t simply leave them behind without a second thought, but it was incredibly difficult to reconcile her family life with her new life. After being with Kitty for about a year, she goes back home to visit. But she had made the mistake of revealing her true relationship with Kitty in a letter to her sister Alice. Now Alice, who had long been Nancy’s best friend and confidante, wants nothing to do with her. She doesn’t tell the rest of her family what she has told Kitty, and she doesn’t go back to visit them again.

Every time a relationship ends, Nancy is left totally alone with nothing, and must start building a life almost from scratch. She reinvents herself over and over, as though trying to settle on her true self. It’s honestly rather exhausting and makes the book feel epic, even though it only spans 7 or 8 years. But it wasn’t tiresome at all – I loved every bit of it.

Before I started the book I planned to watch the movie afterwards, but there’s no reason to. Waters has created something so lush and complex I doubt it could be captured properly on two hours of film. I want my impressions to stay as they are and not be tainted. I will, however, plan to read more of her books! I’ve already enjoyed The Little Stranger, but she has several more to choose from as well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Heritage Baby Sweater

Pattern: Heritage Baby Sweater from Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders
Yarn: Rowan 4 Ply Cotton
Needles: size 1.5
Started: April 16
Finished: June 4

I’ve been knitting this as a gift for friends who are expecting their first baby. It took me just under two months to make this sweater, but it felt like much longer. Lace is aggravating torture, but so pretty. Isn’t this a lovely little sweater?

Choosing a yarn is frequently the most difficult part of a project, and it was especially so this time. I wanted a bright color, it needed to be fingering weight, appropriate for a baby (i.e. not expensive or delicate), and I wanted to avoid animal products. Cotton seemed like a natural choice, especially since this will be worn in the summer (but in San Francisco, so a sweater will frequently be needed!) I don’t know the gender of the baby but it doesn’t really matter as the colors I like tend to not be especially gendered. Ultimately I wasn’t totally happy with the color as I wanted orange and it’s more of a coral - but it’s for an infant, a blind person, and a colorblind person. None of them will know what color it is anyhow.

The sweater is knit from side to side in two pieces, beginning at each sleeve and working towards the middle, then grafted up the back with kitchener stitch. The pattern just says to kitchener the back together and refers to general kitchener instructions in the back of the book. There was no mention of how to kitchener something that is not stockinette, but the rows of live stitches I was working with were almost in reverse stockinette (6 p, 1k, etc) so I just followed the instructions doing it from the wrong side (the mostly-knit side) instead of from the right side. Confused? Me too. It would have been helpful for the pattern to include a tip on how to approach this. Mysteriously, there is also no picture of the back of the sweater in the book so perhaps the designer didn’t know what she was doing either. Although the seam is very obvious, I am choosing to think of it as a design feature rather than crappy seaming.

I was most worried about the crochet edging, which turned out to be a piece of cake. The crowning glory, of course, is this adorable Beatrix Potter button.

For some reason I had a particularly difficult time getting decent photos. The color was hard to capture too, but I think it's fairly accurate in the first two photos.

All in all I’m pretty happy with the result but even more happy that it’s done and can be mailed off to the parents-to-be while the baby is still in utero. And I can finally move on to other projects!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Too cruel for school

Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin (2011)

Being a teenager sucks on many levels, but if you are a teenager who happens to be a dwarf and you are starting at a new high school the suckage potential is exponentially increased. Judy seemed relatively unphased by this, and was mostly just excited to be at such an elite performing arts high school. But clearly things did not go well, as Big Girl Small opens with Judy hiding out at a seedy motel because something so scandalous has happened she is too humiliated to face anyone she knows.

Told in flashback with a slow reveal of the mysterious awful occurrence, the beginning was a little slow for me but once I got into the story I couldn’t put it down. I find this technique manipulative and a bit cheap, but it always works on me. I even knew a little about what the scandal was since reviews of this book gave away FAR too much, but even so it was like watching a slow-motion train wreck. (I won’t be giving away the secrets, so read on without fear!)

At first, Judy didn’t strike me as very genuinely adolescent. She seemed especially mature and self-aware, but showed her naivete later as she became involved with Kyle, the boy who eventually betrayed her. She had a lot of self-confidence for a teenage girl. Maybe she was a little surprised that a popular boy like Kyle would be interested in her, but didn’t really question it. She is, after all, cute and talented and funny. Why shouldn’t he like her? At the same time, Judy is often not given enough credit. After the scandal she kept being referred to as “disabled” and assumed to be a victim. She says “I felt like they should write I’m brave.” Clearly used to being condescended to, she handled awkward (and possibly offensive) social interactions with aloofness and grace that I found admirable.

I loved Judy’s friend, Goth Sarah, who was sweet and devoted and there when Judy needed her the most. Although boys who are betrayers in novels tend to be weak characters, I appreciate that Kyle wasn’t a typical two-dimensional stereotype (though his friends were). Judy’s younger brother Sam was an important though minor character whose lovable dorkiness perfectly illustrates why Judy adores him so much. Even Bill from the motel, a possibly autistic man who provided Judy with a sympathetic ear, was an interesting, and ultimately surprising, character.

The only disappointing aspect of the book was the glaringly unrelated cover photo. Just as with The Wife’s Tale, if a book’s protagonist has a physical characteristic that is integral to the story, using a stock photo of someone who obviously doesn’t have that characteristic is stupid and lame.

Despite the misleading packaging, Big Girl Small is witty and ultimately hopeful, filled with appealing characters and positive insights on self-image and friendship. This would be a great addition to your summer reading list.