Thursday, September 29, 2011

Banned? I'll show you banned.

It is again Banned Books Week, that special time of year in which librarians celebrate the freedom to read by bitching about conservative parents who complain about the books in their local school library. Rather than focusing on high profile yet largely ineffective complaints, let's take a few minutes to read about real censorship, shall we?

For instance, this journalist in Eritrea is in hiding so he won't end up in a prison camp like his colleagues.

Journalists in Iran are forced to self-censor everything they publish.

A 2008 ban of "subversive" books in South Korea was upheld last year.

This writer was imprisoned for 4 years after writing a poem about the Tiananmen Square massacre. He has fled China and just recently spoke in the US for the first time about his experiences.

Another Chinese author, now living in Great Britain, just learned he isn't even allowed to visit his home country:

The Da Vinci Code was banned in Lebanon and now they can't have Lady Gaga's most recent album either.

Don't these stories make you feel a little silly for the hubbub about Twenty Boy Summer?

It's tempting to complain about the continued injustice of And Tango Makes Three being pulled from the shelves of elementary schools everywhere, but these articles should put our problems in perspective. Maybe we should spend Banned Books Week feeling grateful for what we have, rather than focusing on small isolated cases of perceived injustice.

Have you read any other interesting news stories about censorship recently? Please share them


Montmorency: thief, liar, gentleman? by Eleanor Updale (2003)
He never reveals his real name, but has chosen Montmorency from a label on his clothing. Arrested after he falls through a glass ceiling, he was seriously injured. The doctor who put him back together is so proud of his work that he takes Montmorency from prison now and then to be displayed at his public lectures. It is at one of these lectures that Montmorency learns of the new underground sewer system in London, and begins making plans for after his release from prison.

This new sewer system allows him access to –and escape from – nicer areas than he has thieved in before. This means more expensive treasures to sell, and he can’t sell them as a ruffian. So he divides himself into two personas: Scarper, the thief, and Montmorency, a gentleman.

This is considered a young adult book, but I’m not sure why. I thought at first that Montmorency was teenaged, but as he traveled more in upstanding society the people he associated with were definitely adults.

I always like stories set in the Victorian era, and there were some interesting elements here, like the new sewer systems and some bits about contemporary medicine. But there wasn't a lot to love. Montmorency/Scarper was fairly two-dimensional. I was less bothered about not knowing his real name than the fact that I knew nothing else whatsoever about him - there was just no context for his life, not even a passing reference to his childhood or family, as though he was born in prison.

This book is the first in a series, and although it was mildly entertaining I don’t feel compelled to continue. Has anyone read this series beyond this book? Does his character become more developed? I like the idea, but was just disappointed by the execution.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (2011)
 Ever since they won land in Maine on a bet, the Kelleher family has vacationed there every summer. But this year things are different for the three women around whom the novel is focused. Alice, the matriarch of the family, has just promised to donate the property to her church, as a way of finally atoning for her long-held secret guilt. Her daughter-in-law Ann Marie is focused on winning a dollhouse competition, spending thousands of dollars on supplies, and meanwhile harboring a bit of an obsession with a man who is not her husband. Maggie, Alice's granddaughter, is pregnant and newly dumped by her boyfriend.

None of the characters were appealing enough that you'd want them in your life, but they are all a little bit interesting in their own ways.

My favorite part of this book was Alice's back story, and it was worth reading just for this bit. As unlikeable as she can be as an elderly woman, her history explains a lot. She has dark secrets that have motivated her entire life path in a way that was in complete opposition to what she wanted. I loved even the minor details about her early life. For instance, when she was a teenager her family had a party line and Alice would spend hours listening to a young single woman in Beacon Hill talk about her life. Alice thought the single city life was incredibly glamorous and followed Trudy's adventures the way someone would a tv show.

Ann Marie was easy to imagine as real - a woman who is dissatisfied with her life and focuses on minutiae to distract herself. She spends money compulsively, and has lots of opinions about other people and their problems while not dealing with her own. I found myself feeling supportive of her dollhouse hobby, simply because she was channeling her energy towards something creative that she seemed to enjoy.

Maggie was the least interesting, and I felt she was simply not fully formed yet. I kept thinking of her as freshly out of college though she was actually around 30. The most interesting aspect of Maggie was actually her mother - Kathleen was an alcoholic, now sober and living on a worm farm (the composting type of worms) with her long-term boyfriend. She used to read Maggie's diary AND write notes in the margins. They've always been a little too close, yet Maggie has a hard time getting around to telling Kathleen about her pregnancy.

Maine was a fairly typical domestic novel exploring family tension. I almost put it down after the first couple of chapters because I didn't find it compelling enough. But then I came down with a horrible cold and was stuck on the couch all day and read over a hundred pages. It was a good book to read while sick. It would be a decent beach book too, given the setting, the laid-back pacing, and the simplicity of the story. Not bad, but I won't count it among my recent favorites.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Seasonally Appropriate

Just in time for fall.

Pattern: Parcel by Carol Feller from Twist Collective
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK
Needles: size 4

The sweater fits perfectly, including the length. The cable pattern is a lovely accent without overwhelming. I love the color and feel of the yarn. I'm not crazy about the Mistake Ribbing on the hem and cuffs because it looks untidy up close, but the overall effect is fine.

What I like about this sweater is that it's casual without being too casual. It's very comfortable and I can see myself wearing it around the house a lot with jeans, but paired with a skirt and nice shoes it could be fairly dressy. I have a feeling I will wear this a lot over the winter. 

At this point I'm pretty committed to only making sweaters with worsted weight or lighter yarn, and I'm even shying away the worsted a bit. Sweaters from stores are usually made with pretty lightweight yarn and they are plenty warm. There's no need to knit a closetful of bulky sweaters in which I will sweat all winter.

I've already cast on for my next sweater, so stayed tuned for details!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (2011)
Deep in the Amazon a well-respected scientist is researching a tribe of people in which the women are able to continue having babies their whole lives. But Dr. Swenson has stopped communicating with the company funding her research, so they decide to send someone down to check on her. When he is reported dead, they send another scientist, Marina Singh, to find out what happened to him and collect his things, as well as check on Dr. Swenson and her research.

But Annika Swenson's location is a heavily-guarded secret, and Marina must first get past the Bovenders, a young bohemian couple staying in Swenson's apartment and being paid to keep people away from her. Finally she locates Dr. Swenson deep in the jungle, but her discoveries about the research, her lost colleague, and herself are only beginning.

In one passage Marina describes Annika Swenson by saying she "was either standing right in front of you or she could not be located." Dr. Swenson was almost mythical, and in the hands of another writer could have easily felt fake. Her keen intelligence and drive coupled with harsh and unsentimental ways bordered on stereotype. But here she was brilliantly rendered, along with the colorful and unreliable Bovenders and the charming Easter, a young deaf boy in Dr. Swenson's charge.

I always forget what an amazing author Ann Patchett is. Her writing is just so perfect: lush descriptions, intriguing characters, clever dialogue. This novel was atmospheric and heart-wrenching; there was one passage near the end during which I actually gasped. The plot was well-crafted and her descriptions of the settings added richness and texture - in one memorable scene Marina attends an opera, the opulent venue in startling juxtaposition with the dingy surroundings.

It's hard to articulate why I loved this book so much. I savored every part of it and wanted to save quotes from practically every page. Just take my word for it: it's an adventure during which you will see strange and wonderful things, meet extraordinary people, and be surprised over and over again.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thing 17 - Prezi and Slideshare

I haven't had to give a presentation since library school but I have been subjected to plenty. For the most part they are boring, look exactly the same, and the presenter hands out copies of the slides which always made me wonder why we even all gathered together in one room. Why not just email us the slides rather than standing there reading from them?

The value of presentation tools Prezi and Slideshare aren't that they will magically make your presentations better - because only you can do that - but that they enable everyone to share. Sharing means inspiration and learning, finding awesome presentations and using what you've learned to make your presentations better.

In terms of capability, Slideshare is primarily a place to upload presentations you've made using PowerPoint. Prezi is actually a tool for creating presentations, and it allows zooming and panning and other non-linear movements. Like PowerPoint, the presentations could easily all look alike. But if you spend some time looking at the presentations on both of these sites, you are sure to find some great inspiration and advice on how to create a powerful presentation.

Do you ever create presentations? What tools do you use?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Basset is a hardy beast, we vow our loyalty to the end

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (2008)
The admissions department at Alabaster Prep had no idea what they were getting into by admitting Frankie Landau-Banks to their school. Sure, Frankie was following family tradition by attending the school, but there were other traditions she was less content to follow. Take the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, for instance. This secret society was responsible for many brilliant pranks over the years, but its male-only membership insured that Frankie could never take part. Or did it?

As Frankie begins her freshman year at Alabaster, Matthew Livingstone finally notices her, thanks to what her mother euphemistically refers to as Frankie "filling out" over the summer. As much as she enjoys the attention of her new boyfriend, Frankie continues to be frustrated by the assumptions everyone makes about her intelligence, her interests, the kind of person she is, her vulnerabilities. Even Matthew and his friends don't seem to take her seriously or understand what she is capable of. But before the year is out, Frankie will show everyone at her school exactly what she is made of.

Frankie is a brilliant young woman, but still down-to-earth and quirky. I love that she regularly uses neglected positives: maculate, the opposite of immaculate; sufferable, the opposite of insufferable; and so forth, her favorite being the false neglected positive "gruntled" which she picked up from reading P.G. Wodehouse. I love that she reads P.G. Wodehouse.

Matthew doesn't seem to appreciate her worth, and honestly their whole romance was rather unconvincing. We were told, rather than shown, how much Frankie loved him. But this was a minor plot point, as I imagine that romance would always be a minor plot point in Frankie's life. She has more important things to do.

Not that Frankie has everything figured out. She is so focused on her antics she doesn't think through the consequences. And though confident, she still turns to her older sister Zada for advice. My favorite piece of wisdom? When Matthew gives Frankie a t-shirt Zada says "he's marking his territory, like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant."

The novel opens with Frankie's letter of confession as the sole mastermind behind such mal-doings as the Night of a Thousand Dogs, the Canned Beet Rebellion, and the abduction of the Guppy. Are you inspired by students who practice civil disobedience against a patriarchal establishment? If so you'll love this story of how a young woman, whose well-meaning parents continue to call her "bunny rabbit," manages to seize control of a secret society and manipulate it to her own ends. And as she says in her letter, "I am not asking that you indulge my behavior; merely that you do not dulge it without considering its context."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wrap skirt the second - now in pink!

I actually finished this a couple of weeks ago but I was busy and the weather was crappy and I have only recently gotten pictures.

I had just returned from the salon after my first haircut in about a year. What a difference a new hairstyle can make to one's psyche! That photo was more about my new haircut than the skirt, so here's a closeup of the fabric.

This version is more versatile than the first, as I am unlikely to wear yellow and white during the winter. But I will definitely wear the pink and black skirt with tights, boots, and a sweater during the colder weather.

I've moved on to a more difficult project, my newest skirt involving both interfacing and a zipper. I've had a cat-related setback but I think I'll be able to salvage everything and proceed soon. Just as an enticing teaser, I will also tell you that the fabric is a very dark turquoise corduroy. I love the fabric, so I hope it comes out ok!

(You may notice Parcel has been removed from my list of current projects. That can only mean one thing- stay tuned for exciting photos!)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monster Mash

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1918)
In case you missed it in high school, here is the synopsis: an arctic explorer named Walton is writing letters to his sister about his voyage, during which he sees a large, strange figure moving across the ice on a sled. Later he sees another man also traveling in the same direction in pursuit. This man is forced to stop his chase and come aboard. He is ill, but manages to tell his story to Walton, who relays it to his sister. The man, Victor Frankenstein, was obsessed with his scientific studies and his quest to create life. He eventually found the secret - conveniently not revealed in the novel - and builds a man. When the monster comes to life Victor is immediately horrified and flees. For years the monster is shunned and miserable about his situation and seeks to hurt Dr. Frankenstein who brought him to cursed life and then didn't stick around to keep him company. He starts killing people who Frankenstein cares about but promises he'll stop if a woman is created to be with him. Frankenstein will not do so and the whole thing is a suspenseful yet bleak journey towards destruction.

This was my second reading; I read it in high school and really liked it a lot. This time it was for my book group and upon rereading it didn't have the same effect. I knew what was going to happen and acutely felt the impending doom, which was only amplified by the incessant rain we had that week. I suppose this bleakness and suspense are the point though, right?

I had forgotten how many layers of stories were nested together in this novel. The sea captain is writing to his sister about meeting Victor Frankenstein; in which Frankenstein tells Walton his story about his experience with the monster; in which the monster tells Frankenstein about his experiences, including watching a French family in their cottage; during which he relates a tale of that family's misfortune. It's a lot to keep straight.

The novel is also fairly melodramatic, and the language was formal and a bit tiring. But it's pretty amazing taken in its historical context. Frankenstein is considered the first work of science fiction and it was written by a teenage girl. Amazing! Her life is also really interesting, although tragic, and she was a prolific writer. I'm kind of interested in what her other writing is like, but I'm not sure if I'm up for it. Has anyone read her other works? How do they compare?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Second sleeve, slight setback

I made a ridiculous error on my second sleeve. You know how you are knitting along, not having read the entire pattern all the way through first, and suddenly you come to the words "At the same time" and realize you were supposed to be keeping track of how many cable pattern repeats you've been doing? Well, that's not exactly what happened because I've already knit one sleeve so nothing here should be a surprise to me.

On the first sleeve I read far enough ahead to know there was a "same time" situation. It was a confusing one, I'll admit, because at first it was unclear what it was at the same time AS. I started the sleeve with its cable pattern, I did the short row sleeve caps, and then began the decreases. So when it said "at the same time" to work the cable chart a certain number of times before starting the second cable, at first I thought it meant to count the pattern repeats since I started the decreases. It seems obvious now that that makes no sense, but usually "at the same time" means at the same time as the last thing you were just doing. But I soon understood it meant ALL the pattern repeats on the sleeve and thought, how fantastic that I figured this out now before screwing up.

Then I started the second sleeve and immediately forgot everything from the first. So I'm knitting happily along and one evening I thought you know, I'm supposed to start a second cable at some point. I wonder when? Turns out the answer was: about 30 rows ago.

So commenced the crying and gnashing of teeth and confusing math exercises, after which I very carefully ripped out a large section of sleeve - not easy when cables and decreases are involved. The most frustrating part of it all is that it was so unnecessary. There was no reason for me to make such a mistake when I had already successfully completed one sleeve without incident. Had it happened on the first sleeve it would have been forgivable.

But all that's over now and the sleeve has been completed. All that's left on this baby is the neckline and I'll have myself a new sweater.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A touching story of sibling love

...or a love story of siblings touching?  

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma (2011)
Maya and Lochan are the oldest of 5 children and are stuck running their household. Their father left several years ago and their mother has a drinking problem and a new boyfriend and hardly even comes home anymore. Lochan, although academically gifted, is painfully shy and a social outcast. Younger brother Kit has begun hanging out with a rough crowd, staying out late, smoking pot and being generally disagreeable. Unpaid bills pile up, and it's a struggle to take care of the younger kids and fly under the radar of social services. Their dire situation draws Maya and Lochan closer, and soon they are fighting the romantic feelings they have towards each other. Eventually they give in and begin a secret relationship.

Clearly, this won't end well. It is obvious that Maya and Lochan cannot live happily ever after and I spent much of the novel thinking of the myriad ways in which their relationship could implode. The buildup was fantastic, but by the time the inevitable occurred it felt overly dramatic and cheap. Maybe I was just picturing the Jerry Springer-like coverage that would accompany this story in the real world.

Mostly I really liked this book - I felt genuine sympathy for these kids and their desperate struggle, and though incest is a generally distasteful topic I'm glad Suzuma went there. Hardly anybody else does and it's good to have a theme that hasn't been rehashed to death. This isn't like the crappily written Flowers in the Attic either. Maya and Lochan are likeable people, fully aware of the consequences of what they are doing, and they have some really interesting conversations about the rightness or wrongness of it. (Summary: they aren't hurting anyone. True.) Also, they are British! The story took place in England and the kids wear uniforms to school and say fun words like "knickers." Knickers did come up in this book several times, as you can imagine.

The bare bones of the story reminds me of Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden, in which a family of children were left parentless and the two eldest became romantically involved. That is where the similarities end, but I couldn't help thinking of it while reading Forbidden. I'm sure it's just because incest is so rarely tackled in novels. It may be the last true taboo.

Though well over 400 pages, Forbidden is truly a page-turner and took me just a few days to read. The chapters alternate between Maya's and Lochan's perspectives, and though their voices were almost indistinguishable, their personalities weren't. I liked reading all about their family, their problems at school, and their failed attempts at dating other people. I'm sorry things ended in the mess they did, but that is just the world we live in. At least it's a world full of good scandalous books.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thing 16

Thing 16 is about advocacy, speaking up for the profession, and getting published.

Advocacy and speaking up for the profession
First, I just want to draw a distinction between speaking up for libraries and speaking up for the profession of librarianship. For this Thing, although the title says "the profession" they seem to be actually talking about speaking up for libraries, so I'll start with that.

Advocacy for libraries....

Although there are non-librarians who do actively advocate for libraries, the people who most depend on the services we provide are people who lack money, power, or even the ability to get through a regular day without a struggle. These aren't people who attend "save the libraries" rallies, or write editorials, or speak up at public meetings. The people who depend on our services the most are the least likely to actively advocate for libraries, so we need to do it ourselves.

This should happen every day - by publicizing what we do, by increasing our presence in the community, reaching out to all our users including those whose interactions are primarily through their computers or phones. At the risk of sounding all corporate, I would even go so far as to say we should be branding ourselves. Branding sticks. Let's not wait until we need to justify our existences to tell everyone what we do. Tell them when times are good so they remember when times are tough.

....for the profession

We are continually trying to fight layoffs and prevent the deprofessionalization of librarianship. But if we really want to prove that libraries need to be run by professionals and successfully fight to keep our jobs there are two things I think we need:

1. Required professional development. Once we get our MLS degree we are never again held accountable for updating our skills and knowledge. Why aren't there requirements for us to keep our professional credentials like in other fields? It's hard to convince people that our knowledge is valuable when we aren't keeping it updated. Obviously some of us do, but a lot of us don't.

2. A national union. Other professions have them, yet we are all stuck in piddly little local unions with teachers, public works employees, and others who often don't understand our value. How can they effectively advocate for us? It seems like the ALA is in a perfect position to do this and although the organization does work to promote libraries and librarianship, I think they could be doing it in a more meaningful way.  

Getting published

Mostly I think there's nothing I can say that someone else hasn't already said, and probably more articulately. But I have my little blog with its modest readership and I'm happy to confine my thoughts here.

Someday maybe I'll come up with an aspect of librarianship about which I feel like I have something unique to say - perhaps the same topic I'll eventually present on - and then perhaps I'll try to write something to submit for publication.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Good twin, bad twin

Cain His Brother by Anne Perry (1995)
I'm slowly working my way through this series of Victorian-era mysteries featuring William Monk. This one centers around twin brothers, one a gentleman and the other a n'er-do-well inhabitant of the poor rough neighborhood of Limehouse in London. Angus and Caleb long had an antagonistic relationship, but despite their distaste for each other, Angus didn't hesitate to visit Caleb in Limehouse to lend him money when needed. When Angus goes missing, his brother Caleb is suspected of murdering him. Of course nothing turns out to be at all what was suspected, as William finds out during his investigation, assisted by a cast of familiar characters including lawyer Oliver Rathbone and nurse Hester Latterly.

I liked this novel less than the others I've read so far in this series, primarily because Hester wasn't featured as prominently. It was mostly centered around Monk and Rathbone and although I like them, I much prefer Hester. We got a bit of Hester's life here and there as she nursed typhoid victims in Limehouse, but didn't spend nearly as much time with her as I'd like.

This case involved twin brothers, and I suspected the outcome about 100 pages from the end. I'm pretty oblivious with mysteries and rarely even try to guess the outcome of books so I suspect this one was unusually predictable. There are just a couple more from this series I need to tackle in book form before I can get back to the audiobooks. Hopefully I can catch up in time to listen to these mysteries while doing some winter knitting!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sinister school

Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann (2011, audio)

In a tiny little farming town in Montana, a teenage girl named Tiffany Quinn is missing. The whole town turns out to search for her, but their efforts are in vain. In a few months summer is over, school has started, and everything is back to normal. Almost. Kendall becomes concerned when her best friend Nico starts acting distant and preoccupied. He won't tell her why. And then suddenly one day he disappears too. Even when the searches stop, Kendall hears Nico's voice. Literally. It's coming from the old battered desk where he used to sit, and where Tiffany Quinn sat before him.

I expected this to be really creepy (I mean, look at the cover!) but it really never was. It is the kind of stuff horror movies are made of, and there is a pretty horrific scene near the end, but it was never spine-tingling. And even the potentially scary parts only come late in the book.

Even though it didn't scare me, I still liked it. My favorite part was the setting. The town of Cryer's Cross was even smaller than the town where I grew up in Maine, and I can relate to how everyone had known everyone else for their whole lives. They are suspicious of outsiders too - when Jacian and Marlena move to town so soon after Tiffany's disappearance, Jacian becomes a suspect right away. But even in this tiny town there are secrets and it was fun seeing the story unfold.

Kendall was a great character, and her OCD made her just quirky enough while also being useful to the plot. Jacian is sullen and cranky, a skilled soccer player at his old school in Arizona who hasn't taken well to the move to this small town with barely enough kids for a team. The relationship between Kendall and Jacian was compelling, with a good dose of romantic tension building throughout the novel.

Although this book wasn't what I thought it would be, I ended up liking it anyhow. I listened to the audio version, the narrator perfectly capturing the voice of the teenaged protagonist. Listening to Cryer's Cross I was able to suspend reality and immerse myself in the fun, though sad, story.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The loveliest sleeve caps you ever did see

I'm plowing through my second sleeve of Parcel and want to show you the clever little sleeve cap.

This construction is new to me. The body of the sweater is knit in one piece and divided for the front and back. The tops of the shoulders are grafted together and then stitches are picked up for the sleeves. The top part of the sleeve, the cap, is then shaped with short rows. This creates a more natural rounded shape in which to put your shoulder. Brilliant! Clever! I don't know why all sleeves aren't constructed this way. The best part is that I don't have to remember to pick up the wraps, which are easy to miss. Leaving them creates a decorative edge on the sleeve cap.

In a traditional construction, the front, back and sleeves are all knit separately and then sewn together. Fitting the shaped tops of the sleeves into the armhole areas on the front and back is always a challenge. I've made other sweaters where the sleeves were knit from the armholes similarly, but they used just regular increases/decreases for shaping. It still works, but the shape isn't as three-dimensional.

I'm very happy with how this sweater is coming out. It will make the transition to cold weather much more pleasant than it would be otherwise!