Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Love Warps the Mind a Little

Love Warps the Mind a Little by John Dufresne (1997)

Lafayette Proulx is not only struggling as a writer, but he's also failing at his marriage. The day his wife tells him to leave he packs up and goes the only place he can think of, his girlfriend Judi's house. He feels torn, truly he does. He's invested many years with Martha but isn't sure he still loves her; he doesn't think he wants to commit to Judi either. But he has to be with one of them because after quitting his full-time teaching job to write, his recent job at a restaurant isn't enough to pay the bills. So he stays at Judi's house even after he begins marriage counseling with Martha, thinking maybe they can work things out. Then Judi is diagnosed with cancer and Laf pitches in to help and finds himself more permanently fixed in her household, and more invested in their relationship.

On the surface Laf is a freeloader, living first with one woman, then another, contributing nothing financially to either arrangement. But I couldn't help being sympathetic with him. For one thing he is a good writer, despite not being able to be published. He's very involved in his work and we learn a lot about the novel he's working on, which in many ways parallels his own life. He's obviously very smart and his writing apparently reflects his thoughtful and philosophical nature. So it's not ridiculous that he has given up so much to write; it's his life. He observes, "Nothing begins with so much excitement and hope and pleasure as love, except maybe writing a story. And nothing fails as often, except writing stories."

Aside from his merit as a writer, I found Laf to be an endearingly flawed character. He's honest (to us, if not to the women in his life) about his shortcomings and his attempts at self-preservation. But while he's fairly selfish on the surface, he shows incredible compassion as Judi becomes sicker and truly goes above and beyond what is required of someone at that stage of romantic attachment.

Judi's family members are over the top in their eccentricities, and combined with Martha's emotional neediness it's all wonderfully messy and complicated, and even a little poignant at times. Dufresne writes with the self-deprecation of Nick Hornby and the quirkiness of Douglas Coupland, making this funny and sad novel thoroughly enjoyable.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Knitting

I'm just back from my Thanksgiving trip to Maine, but managed to get a picture of my sock while I was there and it was daylight.

It looks a little misshapen here, but I swear it looks totally normal when I put it on my foot.

As planned, I used an extra strand on the heel flap on the bottom which I knit on the drive up (I wasn't driving at the time) and also on the heel turn, which I did at my mother's house after we arrived. I have an inconvenient problem with reading in the car, in that it makes me incredibly ill, so I can't do any knitting that involves closely following instructions. Anyhow, the double-stranded parts feel very tough, which makes me hopeful that they won't wear through immediately.

After the heel turn, I went back to the single strand and knit the back heel flap and gusset, which you can tell from the photo is very short. This is a new construction for me so I'm not sure if that's how it's supposed to be but I tried the sock on and it fits, so I'm happy with it.

On the drive back I knit most of the leg - I think maybe one more inch I'll be ready to start the second sock!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Knitter's Life List

The Knitter's Life List by Gwen W. Steege (2011)

Here's a book unlike any other knitting book I've seen before. It's essentially a huge compendium of things to try in your knitting life. The chapters are topical ("The Yarn Life List," "The Know-How Life List," "The Sweaters Life List") and each chapter begins with a full-page list of things to learn about, techniques or projects to try, and places to visit relating to the chapter's theme. The rest of the chapter tackles some of the items in-depth. It's not all one narrative flow, rather the chapter is chopped into small, digestible bits that can be read independently of the rest. This is the sort of book you can just pick up, turn to a random page, and learn something new or get a great idea for a project.

Topics include:

Knitting retreats, mobius knitting, knitting in books and movies, origins of the terms "cardigan" and "raglan," Andean hats, double knitting, kitchener stitch, felting, Norwegian mittens, afterthought thumb, Maritime "wet" mittens worn by fishermen, twined knitting, calculating a good fit, beading, craft-related tours, designing garments for babies, yarn-bombing, backward knitting, fiber arts in myths and legends, weaving, spinning, dyeing, charity knitting, classic knitting books, speed knitting, classic Aran sweaters, embroidering your knits, as well as profiling many well-known knitters.


This is a really awesome book. The lists are great, sure - I love lists - but the real treasure is all of the information and inspiration jam-packed into each chapter, peppered with luscious photos. I learned a lot of interesting things - there's a lot of knitting trivia, but also advice and tips and ideas for projects.

 My intention when I got this book from the library was just to skim through it, but I ended up reading almost every word. There were definitely topics that interested me more or less than other topics. I'm less interested say, in weaving or spinning than many knitters, but there is something (ok, many things!) for everyone in this book. If, like me, you borrow it from the library, I think you may end up buying yourself a copy so you can use it as a reference and turn to it when you need inspiration. I know I plan to.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wishful Drinking

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (2008)

There are several important things I didn't know about Carrie Fisher.

1. She was once married to Paul Simon
2. She wrote Postcards From the Edge
3. Her parents were Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

In summary, all I knew about her before listening to this audiobook was that she played Princess Leia in Star Wars, so this book was a good education for me.

Carrie Fisher is like your crazy aunt who gets too tipsy at family gatherings and tells inappropriate stories. (The aunt I will probably be someday, possibly later this week.) I don't normally like when people trot out their histories of drug abuse, childhood problems, and electroshock therapy, but she really is a very good storyteller and so clearly isn't asking for pity or trying to make excuses for her behavior. In the author's note at the end she talks a little about the stigma of mental illness and says that those who suffer from these problems shouldn't be ashamed; in fact, they should be proud that they are able to actually function and live their lives. And that's how she comes across in her narrative - she seems very happy that she is functional, but at the same time finds it all perfectly hilarious.

This audio version was read by Fisher, and of course no other narrator could do it justice. Rather than focusing on any one part of her life, it was a meandering sort of monologue that was quite conversational and lent itself well to an audio format. It was more of a performance than a memoir and, indeed, is based on a show that she's been doing for a while. Her voice sounds kind of rough, as though she's been smoking for 70 years or so, but I really enjoyed listening to her. It was pretty short, but very informative and enjoyable and funny.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Everybody Sees the Ants

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King (2011)

 Lucky Linderman doesn't feel very lucky. He has been relentlessly bullied by Nader McMillan, who began by peeing on Lucky's shoes at the tender age of seven. Last year as part of a social studies project Lucky created a survey asking other students what method they would use to commit suicide, and his intentions were completely misunderstood and resulted in an undue amount of aggravation. His parents are completely stressed out about how to handle him and argue about it all the time. His mother avoids coping by swimming in every spare moment and his father by working.

During the latest Nader episode Lucky's face became intimately acquainted with the cement ground at the public pool, leaving a scab shaped like the state of Ohio. As Lucky lay there trying to think of other things, he suddenly saw ants dancing around and cheering him on, ants who continued to show up every now and then afterwards, having little parties and dispensing advice. The sort of surreal occurrence barely phases Lucky, who regularly has dreams in which he rescues his MIA grandfather in Vietnam, and when he wakes up he's left with some little piece of physical evidence from the dream.

After this latest bullying episode, Lucky's mom becomes fed up with his dad's inaction and takes Lucky with her to her brother's house in Arizona. Aunt Jodi is a little strange, but Uncle Dave seems great, and Lucky enjoys hanging out with him, lifting weights in the garage. It's a relief to be away all the troubles at home, and he even meets an interesting girl. But Lucky knows his problems will still be waiting for him when he gets back home.

That is a very long summary, but there's a lot going on here! The main theme is about bullying and the lack of response by the adults, but there are a lot of other issues and, man, do these characters know how to avoid dealing with their problems! As Lucky gets to know more about Jodi and Dave, he starts to think his parents are pretty functional after all. Though he still wishes his parents would at least TALK about his missing grandfather, and the fact that his grandmother's life was so consumed in the POW/MIA movement, which has clearly affected his father. He also wishes the authorities weren't so preoccupied with why he conducted the suicide survey that they overlooked some of the upsetting responses he received.

There was so much to like about this novel. Lucky is such a good person, and has a healthy sense of humor, and I was so happy at the sort of young man he was becoming throughout the novel. His quiet observation of other people and their relationships was very endearing, as was his consideration for others. Plus he's a damn good cook. This story was so well told that I didn't even mind the tiny elements of magical realism; in fact, they were part of its charm.

That's two hits in a row by A.S. King, who also wrote the fabulous Please Ignore Vera Dietz and is proving herself a very strong new voice in young adult literature. I really look forward to seeing what she has for us next.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Knitting

I feel a little silly that it took me about 75 rows to realize something very basic about the construction of my sweater. I knew that it has an i-cold edging, and I was curious as to how to attach i-cord to the edge of something. I skimmed through the pattern to find that part and couldn't but figured I'd see it later when I got to that part.

At the same time, I thought it really strange that the instructions say to slip the first 3 stitches of each row. I mean, wouldn't that make the edge totally pull in and be all rounded?

Yeah. I am little slow.

Look at my pretty i-cord edging! I didn't even know I was making it!

Next I begin the sleeves, which I'm not looking forward to at all. (If only I were a vest girl!) Then the sleeves get knit together with the yoke, which is where the fun smocking pattern comes in. Lots to look forward to in this project, but mostly I'm getting antsy to wear it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Skellig by David Almond (1998)

On the advice of Nick Hornby I finally read this young adult novel that I've heard about for years.

Michael and his family have just moved into a new house, and one day as he is poking about in the garage (against his father's orders) Michael finds a strange and seemingly ill man sitting in the corner. He has strange protrusions coming out of his back, and he eats bugs but really loves Chinese food and brown ale. Despite the man's insistence on being left alone, Michael befriends him and confides to him that his new baby sister is gravely ill and may not survive. Michael knows the old garage will be torn down soon and is frantic to get his new friend to safety without revealing his presence to his parents. When he meets Mina, the unusual girl next door, he lets her in on the secret and together they try to help the mysterious man.

Skellig was 182 pages and I read it in one sitting. I don't remember the last time I read a book in one sitting. This was a super quick read - so you have no excuse not to read it - but it's an amazing, beautiful, touching story. The writing is very straightforward and I like that it doesn't attach all sorts of meaning to the character of Skellig. It doesn't say "he's an angel" and launch into various mythologies - it just says "here's this guy and what he looks like and what Michael observed" without making it into something bigger. Clearly it IS something bigger, but it's never explained. Who or what Skellig is remains a mystery, and I like it that way.

The book deals with heavy issues, certainly. Michael's still unnamed baby sister hovers between life and death and Michael feels her heart beating in his chest next to his own. He desperately wants her to get better and focuses on it intensely, convinced that his concentration will make a difference.

Mina is a pretty wonderful character. Obsessed with birds, she is home-schooled and very staunchly believes in the superiority of self-directed learning over a formal school system. Curious and creative, she opens up new ideas and perspectives to Michael, while becoming a close and loyal friend.

Beautiful in its simplicity, this is a story that people of all ages can appreciate.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Abundance of Katherines

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (2006)

New high school graduate and child prodigy Colin Singleton has just been dumped by his 19th girlfriend named Katherine. Depressed into immobility, his best friend Hassan convinces him that a road trip is in order. Soon they end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, lured by a sign promising them the gravesite of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. There they meet Lindsey Lee Wells and her mother Hollis, owner of a factory that make tampon strings. Colin and Hassan are hired by Hollis to interview the current and former employees of the factory for an oral history project. Meanwhile Colin is working on a theorem to predict the outcome of relationships and is testing his formula on all of his past relationships with Katherines.

The entire cast of characters was appealing, especially Colin, with his Jew-fro and his dorky love of anagramming and his desire to be not just a prodigy, but a genius. Quirky Muslim Hassan was hilarious as a sidekick, and I liked how he and Colin interacted. They sometimes spoke Arabic to each other - totally dorky! - but also made very boy-appropriate jokes involving words like "sphincter." You know, just to keep it real. I also like Lindsey a lot, and appreciated how torn she was between acting all bad-ass and popular and fearing that she was completely fake. All the people of Gutshot were colorful and endearing.

I listened to the audio version, which I thought was very well done. The narrator did a fantastic job with the voices and the accents, my favorite being an old guy who was missing part of his jaw from cancer. I know a lot of people don't like when audiobook narrators do the voices, but I find that it helps tremendously in signaling which character is speaking and when a narrator does as good job as this one, it can really add to my enjoyment of the story. The only thing I didn't like about the audio was that just as with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, they added the annoying sound effect for phone call conversations.

The story was very sweet and hopeful and a great deal of fun. John Green was co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson which was just fantastic. I've also heard great things about his first novel, Looking for Alaska, which I hope to read sometime soon!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shakespeare Wrote for Money

Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby (2008)

My book group recently chose to read Nick Hornby's third and final collection of his monthly Stuff I've Been Reading column from The Believer magazine. I thoroughly enjoyed his first two and this third volume did not disappoint. For those who are unfamiliar, he begins each column with a list of the books he bought that month and a list of the books he read that month. Sometimes there is overlap. Then he discusses the books in an essay, and I add more titles than I can ever read in my lifetime to my Goodreads list.

Some of the books discussed in this volume include The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, and most memorably, Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Hornby urges his readers to go with their instincts on this last one - if you don't think you want to read it, don't. In describing just how difficult a book it is to read, he says  "Sometimes you feel like begging the man to use his last bullet on you, rather than the boy. The boy is a fictional creation, after all, but you're not. You're really suffering."

I love Nick Hornby for many reasons, but I think most of all for his unpretentiousness. In this volume he has discovered young adult literature, which of course endears him to me even more, but what he likes about it is that it's so incredibly readable. He also discovers the Alex Awards from YALSA, given to adult books with appeal to teens. As Hornby describes it, "a list of ten books that aren't boring." Hornby read and enjoyed Skellig by David Almond, Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie, just to name a few of his young adult choices.

Another takeaway for me from this book was what he said about reading from a list. He came across some book to the effect of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and says "reading begets reading - that's sort of the point of it, surely? - and anybody who never deviates from a set list of books is intellectually dead anyway." I have a fairly lengthy list of books to read and too often I consider it more of an assignment that I need to get through than a list of interesting sounding titles I don't want to forget. Hornby's words were a good reminder to deviate from that list and read whatever I feel like at the moment. I certainly don't want to be among the intellectually dead.

And this book surely begets more reading - I've already read David Almond's Skellig (in one sitting, no less). I'll tell you all about it soon.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Knitting

After last weekend's musings on the difficulties of creating durable socks, I looked through some of my sock books for information and ideas about this. The problem is that the place where my socks wear is on the bottom of the heel and there is so little that is worked back and forth, thus enabling me to use an extra strand for reinforcement.

But I was looking through my favorite sock book, Sensational Knitted Socks, and Charlene Schurch does discuss reinforcement. Mostly it is what I've read in other places, but it was comforting to see that she acknowledged it numerous times. In looking through the chapter on sock construction, I saw something that might work for me: a toe-up sock with a heel flap. Socks made this way have a heel flap that starts mid-way through the bottom of the foot which means that there is a longer stretch of back and forth knitting, more opportunity for me to use reinforcing yarn. This is excellent news!

I immediately whipped out a skein of Cascade Heritage sock yarn I bought recently - which, helpfully, happens to be 25% nylon - and cast on a short-row toe.

Although I don't enjoy working short rows, primarily because I'm not great at it and have to really focus on the instructions, I do love the little cup it makes for my toes. I also really love this yarn so far. The color is a fantastic murky seawater color that reminds me of days on the lobster boat when I was a kid. Seriously. The photo above really brings out bright blues and greens that don't appear in real life. I'll try to get a more accurate photo later.

There isn't a real pattern here. I'm using the short row toe from one set of patterns in the Schurch book and the heel flap from another set of patterns. I'm working it in a nice classic 2 x 2 rib. I really want to get to a point where I can just pick up some yarn and needles and knit me some socks without a pattern. I think I'm getting close.

I'm knitting on size 0 needles to create a nice tight gauge, something that also helps to prevent holes, and in addition to the nylon content of the yarn and the extra strand I'll use on the heels I expect these socks to survive any upcoming apocalypse we may experience.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Final Thing - CPD 23 Things Overview

Now that I have tardily reached the end of the CPD 23 Things, it's time to reflect on the program. For Thing 23 we're supposed to do a SWOT analysis - but I suck at that sort of categorization - and a personal development plan - but I'm allergic to goals - so I'll just share some general thoughts.

Overall, I found it well-organized and thorough. It really did touch on many aspects of professional development. There were a few things that weren't relevant to me. Of course, as a free online program one doesn't have to do every single thing, nor are you paying for it and therefore feeling compelled to do everything. It seemed a little academically focused with the bits about citation resources, for instance, and was definitely British-centered. Although I do love the British with their charming accents and Jammy Dodgers, I still have no idea what CILIP or chartership are. I just felt free to ignore those parts.

Some of the Things I've focused on a lot recently anyhow because of my long-term job search, but I appreciated that they were included and I definitely learned about some new tools for presentations and whatnot. Although I may not need to use them, it's nice to know about them. The only thing covered in the program that I have totally jumped on board with is Evernote, which I find incredibly useful for creating drafts of blog posts, as well as to-do lists and lots of notes for work.

I think my only recommendations for improvement in the program would be to make some of the very specific Things more general. For instance, instead of focusing just on particular tools maybe have it more about, say, giving good presentations and then list Jing or whatever as a tool to achieve that goal. If you're going to touch on presentations I think there is a lot more to cover than just the technology aspect. There are a few Things in the program that could benefit from this more rounded-out approach I think.

I'm very grateful for the people who put together this kind of online learning and then offer it up for free. It's clear that they have put a ton of work into organizing this which must involved lots of time and effort and is really a valuable contribution to the profession. Thanks to the organizers for the opportunity!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht (2011)

This much-lauded novel from young Croatian author Téa Obreht begins with the main character, Natalia, telling a story about visiting tigers in a zoo with her grandfather when she was a child. It then moves to the present time in which she is en route to an orphanage with her friend Zora to administer vaccinations, and learns through a phone call that her grandfather has died.

Throughout the trip she thinks back to stories of her grandfather's youth during which his village was frequented by a tiger. Most of the book consisted of these flashbacks, with just an occasional bit set in Natalia's present. These stories had a mythical quality to them, focusing as they did on a man who could not die and a mysterious woman referred to as the tiger's wife who everything in the village believed did, in fact, have some sort of relationship with the tiger.

The village tales were nicely composed, but not really my taste. I preferred the current story about Natalia and her experiences as a young doctor in a war-torn country. There was little of this aspect of the story however, which is disappointing because I found Natalia intriguing and wanted to learn more about her life.

This was the sort of novel through which you move very slowly, but enjoy taking in all the scenery along the way. Her writing is beautiful and even after the novel became tedious to me I was rewarded with some truly lovely passages at the end. Although it wasn't my cup of tea, I can see why the book received so much praise.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Girl Is Murder

The Girl Is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines (2011)

 After her father lost his leg at Pearl Harbor and her mother committed suicide, Iris Anderson found herself transplanted from her posh private school on the Upper East Side to a public school in her new neighborhood on the Lower East Side. Her father was struggling to perform his work as a private investigator with his new disability, so Iris took it upon herself to help him out, whether he wanted her to or not. (Hint: he didn't.) After a boy at her high school went missing and her father was hired to investigate, Iris decided to conduct her own investigation and found herself involved in a crowd with a bad reputation, opening up a whole new social world to her.

Iris's world is complicated, trapped as she is between her posh uptown life, and her new downtown life, not quite fitting in either place anymore. She also walks a fine line between childhood and adulthood, wanting to help her father with his work because they need the money, but meeting his resistance at every turn because she is "just a child." Trying to fit in at her new school isn't easy either. The first people she meets are Pearl and Paul, a brother and sister who try to befriend her. Pearl is an outcast, especially vilified by the Rainbows, the tough-talking group that Iris befriends to try and track down their missing friend. The group takes Iris out to Harlem with them for drinking and dancing to a new kind of music that Iris has never heard before, but instantly loves. She finds herself lying to both sets of friends about different aspects of her life. Meanwhile, she's ignoring her old friend Grace from the upper east side because she feels like Grace is taking perverse joy in Iris's social descent.

Although marketed towards fans of Veronica Mars, this book reminded me more of Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher. Set in the same era, The Girl Is Murder included nice period details including contemporary slang expressions, tasty treats like egg creams (whatever those are), and featured boys in zoot suits, with a slight nod to the Zoot Suit Riots (which I always thought was just a song but was, in fact, an actual series of riots.)

The audio narrator was really fantastic, what with her New York accent and convincing dialogue. This was one of the better audio performances I've listened to, and I'm so glad I opted for this format. But I'm sure the book is great too, so however you like it you should give it a try!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Knitting

I'll be posting about my knitting every Sunday in hopes that it won't fall by the wayside again. Now that there's so little daylight I usually have to wait for the weekend to take photos anyway, so it should work out.

Today I want to show you part of an orange sock.

This is the Milo sock from Sock Innovation by Cookie A. I really love the cables in this pattern and I think it will look smashing in orange. It's fun to knit and the Lorna's Laces sock yarn is quite lovely to work with.

But I'm a little worried.

I had to throw away a pair of hand-knit socks recently because the holes were, in my opinion, beyond darning. They were my clown barf socks, so I wasn't terribly sorry to see them go. But now I'm afraid I may also have to discard my Pomatomous socks as well, and that is a shame.

This has got me ruminating on ways to make my socks a little sturdier so as to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future. You know, people have been knitting socks for centuries and many of them must have hated darning as much as I do, but I have yet to see a sock pattern written with any sort of reinforcement.

There are a few things that seem to help:

1. Use yarn with a decent amount of nylon in it. Pure wool is a disaster waiting to happen. It's unfortunate, because I love me some Smooshy sock yarn but I don't think I can knit socks with it anymore.

2. Knit at a tight gauge. At one point I decided to ALWAYS knit socks on size 0, but every time I start a fancy pattern (like the one above) I'm right back to using a larger size in the interest of having the socks come out the right size. Using multi-size patterns like those from Sensational Knitted Socks allows me to knit at any gauge, so I may try to fill in my sock wardrobe with more of these. But I still like the fancy ones.

3. Reinforce the heels by knitting a strand of reinforcement thread with the yarn. I don't have reinforcement thread but I'm thinking of just knitting double-stranded with the yarn when I do the heel. I will also make the gauge much tighter on those parts. I may research this a bit more.

What do you do to prevent wearing holes in your socks? And what about Fair Isle patterned socks? Does the extra yarn you carry along the back of the knitting help with the wear?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thing 22

Thing 22 is about volunteering to get library experience.

I have mixed feelings about this subject. Many libraries don't even accept volunteers, but if you are lucky enough to get a volunteer gig it's probably not going to be professional work. If you have no library experience whatsoever it will be great just to gain experience working in a library, even if you're just shelving books. I've never had to do this because fortunately I had a job in the library when I was an undergrad so I had experience under my belt long before I decided to become a librarian. I've done other volunteer work though, most notably as a board member and committee chair for East Somerville Main Streets. Some of the more library-relevant aspects of the job have included organizing a series of networking events for businesses and putting together a monthly newsletter.

From the hiring standpoint, you need to be careful about depending on volunteers. It's difficult enough to convince municipal governments that we're important, valued professionals in the community; we shouldn't have to also convince them that they need to pay us. Why pay MLS salaries when there are people willing to work for free? Sure, there are plenty of people who want to volunteer in the library because they think working in a library is "fun." That doesn't mean they are good at it, or will stick around to deal with the less "fun" parts of the job. There is training involved, and investing the time and energy into training a volunteer is totally worth it if they stay for a while, but if they get bored or find a full-time job or leave for whatever reason, then you may not have gotten payback on your investment.

If you're thinking of volunteering to gain library experience, you may find it difficult to find an opportunity. But keep your options open - perhaps you could create your own volunteer job. There are many venues where there is no library funding and free help would be the only option. Look at all libraries popping up at the Occupy locations, for instance. Offering to set up and maintain a library for a senior center or other non-profit organization would also be a great way to get some experience while helping to provide much-needed services in your community. You'd probably be performing a higher level of work than in a traditional setting where there are already paid librarians, and showing off your ingenuity and ability to plan and execute projects.

Have you done volunteer library work? What was your experience like?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (2011)

Since her dad died, Jill has isolated herself from her friends as she struggles through each day in a world that no longer seems like a good place. When her mom decides to adopt a baby, Jill can't help but feel like she is being replaced. She also thinks her mom is crazy to take on a baby at her age, and upset that the birth mother, Mandy, will be coming to stay with them for the last few weeks of her pregnancy. In alternating chapters, Jill and Mandy share their stories, their fears, and their hope for the future in a situation that is fast becoming increasingly complicated.

Neither Jill nor Mandy were especially likable at first, particularly because of the lies and deceit behind which they both hid. But as they got to know each other and built up a tiny bit of trust, they began to seem real to me and as they slowly got along better, I came to like both of them.

Mandy is naive, trusting, and socially inept. On the way to the MacSweeney's she chats with a man sitting next to her on the train and, after snagging an address label from the magazine he was reading, starts writing letters to him. It's probably very creepy from his viewpoint, but she's simply a very lonely person who doesn't know how to form friendships and participate in the world. Her mother's version of parenting was to deliver advice on dating and what men want, and to criticize and belittle Mandy at every opportunity. Living with her mom and her boyfriend was not even close to the loving family environment that Mandy wanted, and arriving at Jill and Robin's house was like entering another world. "As we drive into Robin's neighborhood...the houses get nicer and trees tower over them, stretching their branches to protect the families inside." It is this kind of orderly comfort and security that Mandy has never had and continues to long for.

Jill, on the other hand, grew up in that sort of comfort and was very social and involved in life at one time. But she can't deal with what she lost when her father died and rather than rely on her friends and boyfriend to help her cope she simply withdrew. She puts on a great act at work, where she is pleasant and friendly, but she's cold to her family and friends. She says, "I can be human to strangers and coworkers, just not to the people who actually care about me." She's disappointed in herself, and knows that her dad would be disappointed in her behavior as well, which only feeds her self-hate.

Putting these two young women together in one household is a recipe for conflict by itself. Adding Robin is another whole layer: she desperately wants to trust Mandy, but Jill tries to convince her not to. Given Jill's recent behavior it's difficult for Robin to listen to her, but she also wants to repair their relationship. The final outcome is predictable but satisfying.

Sara Zarr continues to excel at creating lifelike, complicated characters and putting them in difficult situations that force them to grow. I think Sweethearts is still my favorite, but if you like Sara Zarr at all (and who doesn't?) How to Save a Life is a must-read.