Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Knitting

I am knitting something small and red.

That is all.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

PLA 2012 Part 2

Here is the belated second half of my summary of the PLA Conference. (Here is Part 1.)

Reader's Advisory Toolkit 

The first speaker was Joyce Saricks, who defines reading as story in every form and says it's the heart of what we do (I agree!) She characterizes reader's advisory as collaborative and symbiotic and encourages fostering a work culture of talking about reading. She says, "The more we talk, the easier it is." She recommends talking about books with coworkers while you're on desk and also to start staff meetings by sharing what book you are reading. (I would LOVE if our staff meetings included enough time for this.) She talked about brainstorming, collecting links, learning how to discuss appeal factors and then compare to similar books, and create effective displays. My favorite idea she mentioned was to create a reader profile of yourself including the kinds of books you love and listing 3 books that you love and 3 that you hate. Then exchange profiles with a coworker and make recommendation lists for each other. 

Neal Wyatt, author of All in for RA, presented 3 levels of Reader's Advisory:
  • Basics: know what it is, where resources are in the library or online, know who in your library is a specialist in different areas
  • Next Steps: know what's popular and share with other staff, know how to talk to readers about books, and how to answer common RA questions
  • Deep cuts: understand appeal and how it works, then share what you do and how you do it 
He also emphasized that ALL staff should take part in Reader's Advisory and that to some extent it should happen everywhere: at the circ desk, in the stacks, even outside of the library. He also encouraged doing RA programming on topics such as great gift books, suggestions for book groups, or books related to the upcoming season.

Georgine Olson spoke on behalf of small and rural libraries, but offered suggestions helpful to anyone. She mentioned some online resources such as the Fiction-L list,, and She talked about the importance of creating a personal training plan and scheduling it into your workflow. Finally she introduced a formula for booktalks on the run using the acronym PRES: Point (title), Reason (for recommending, such as mentioning another book they like), Example (something about the recommended book and why they might like it), Summary (ex. "it takes place in a different time period, but both books have this in common."

Maximizing the Impact of Programming

Scott Doser from the Wilkerson Public Library in Telluride CO talked about their many successful programs. Although successful programs are generally measured by attendance he says we should consider programs with small attendance but big impact on attendees to be successful. He also doesn't shy away from controversy, citing a 2-hr program about the Middle East that ended up being 5 hours long. Their library mission is Inspire, Challenge, Engage, Transform. They have awesome programs, but they also have a $20k programming budget. (To put this in perspective my library has NO budget for adult programs.)

Library Tech Consultant Carson Bloc spoke about integrating technology into programming and being mobile- and social-friendly.

Programs that Pack the Place

As with the other sessions, this was a panel, and although there was lots of good ideas, my favorite was Coming Together in Skokie. This is run sort of like a Community Read program in that there is a theme and many programs around that theme. But rather than revolving around a book, it is centered on a particular culture. (They require that it be a culture represented in their community with leaders willing to collaborate.) They pick a book or two, not necessarily by an especially well-known author, but one that represents the culture in some way and they bring the author to speak. They plan 25 or 30 programs over the course of 6 weeks including book discussions, films, cooking, and lectures. They produce an extensive program booklet describing the purpose of the program and a cultural background as well as a schedule of events, a glossary of cultural terms, and recommended further reading.

It sounds like a fantastic program and has been incredibly successful because the cultural community gets very involved and usually the same people will stay involved the following year even though it's a different culture.

We've Got the Beat

I buy music CDs for my library but I don't have a background in music so I was very happy this program was offered.

The speakers talked a little about music advisory and tapping staff for what they listen to, and suggested a number of resources to use for collection development such as,, and for education and workshops.

They talked about music sources such as freegal and Pandora, as well as legal issues (basically, do due diligence by posting that it is illegal to rip CDs).

The speakers also do Personalized Picks at their library (they do something similar for books). There's an online form that patrons can fill out and they receive a link to a list of suggestions with some information on why they were chosen (Bibliocommons can be used for this.)

In Order to Form a More Perfect Union: Library Access as an Emerging Constitutional Right

The speakers presented some general information about the First Amendment and balancing patron protection with sharing information. They emphasized the importance of posting policies and documenting incidents.

The most interesting part of this session was a representative from the National Coalition of the Homeless. Acknowledging that libraries are popular hangouts from homeless people, some have done programming that is specifically targeted towards this group such as book groups, an exhibit of photography and interviews with local homeless people, and hiring the homeless to monitor bathrooms and keep them clean. The organization has a speakers bureau that will come talk to staff about good service.

Betty White

The closing conference speaker was Golden Girl Betty White. She was just as hilarious and adorable in person as she is on tv. She spoke about her books, her work with animals and zoos, and her long career. It is clear that she understands how lucky she is, and she seems to appreciate every single good thing that has happened to her. What a classy lady!

A month and a half later I have barely begun to use anything I've learned - I'm glad I've waited until now to post because it's a great reminder to pull out my conference materials and start using all the great ideas I came back with!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Snow Child

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (2012)

In 1920s Alaska, Jack and Mabel hope to forge a new life for themselves. After the heartbreak of a stillborn baby they have reached middle age childless. In Alaska, they want to start a farm, keep to themselves, and led a quiet life alone. But it is more difficult than they thought, and the distance growing between them only makes their troubles worse. One night in winter when they have almost given up hope, they build a child out of snow and dress it in woolens. In the morning it is gone, but later they see a girl running through the woods in the scarf and mittens from the snow child. Where did the girl come from? How can she possibly survive alone in this harsh climate? Jack and Mabel each have their own ideas as they tentatively reach out to this mysterious girl. 

Though the couple went to Alaska to be alone, they reluctantly become friends of their nearest neighbors, a raucous and friendly family who are lively and generous. They need the companions, because it is clear that just having each other isn't enough. When Mabel is upset, Jack will just turn away rather than comfort her. It's not that he doesn't care, just that he doesn't know how to support her. She needs a friend who understands and finds it in the unusual Esther. Jack, too, needs help as he struggles to build a farm from scratch by himself, and the neighbors' son Garrett becomes invaluable.

Based on reviews that described the book as a retelling of the Russian tale of Snegurochka, I didn't think I'd like it. I expected the writing to be dreamy and ethereal, fairy-tale like. But when I picked up a copy from the library shelf and read the first page I was instantly smitten. It couldn't be more grounded. It begins with Mabel alone, the silence broken by the scrape of the broom across the wooden floor, the rasp of her boots on the ice. Everything is so tangible I can almost feel the cold Alaska air myself. This is some of the nicest writing I've had the pleasure to read. Several times I came across a sentence which I read over and over just to enjoy the sounds of it. 

The story was well crafted too. There isn't a need to suspend your disbelief here, because there is nothing obviously magical or paranormal that happens. When there are surprising events, the characters are surprised as well and explain it in some reasonable way. I like that fine line between our world and another; something slightly odd may have happened, but surely it's not what we think. 

For someone who hates the cold, I've always been strangely drawn to books set in harsh freezing climates. But even if that weren't the case, there is still a great deal to enjoy about The Snow Child

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Did Not Finish

In place of my regular knitting post (which I currently have no fodder for) here's a way-overdue round-up of some books I couldn't finish.

The Marriage Plot

In the newest novel from Jeffrey Eugenides (author of The Virgin Suicides and, my favorite, Middlesex) we meet Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell, a bunch of pretentious intellectuals finishing up college and philosophizing about semiotics. Sounds a blast, doesn't it? I guess the book goes on to chronicle their love triangle throughout the 1980s but I couldn't be bothered with it. The characters were flat and lifeless, though distinctively snobby and academic, and completely void of personality. They were self-absorbded in the worst way, but I can't imagine why since they were all so utterly uninteresting. I still don't understand what semiotics is, but every time there was a lengthy quote from Derrida's "Of Grammatology" or Barthes' "A Lover's Discourse, my eyes glazed over. I made through about 80 pages before deciding to stop torturing myself.

I cannot for the life of me understand why this book has been so popular. The critical reviews are glowing, but this is the dullest most pretentious piece of crap I've had the misfortune to come across in a really long time. It's especially disappointing given how much I loved Eugenides' last book, Middlesex. If you read this and liked it, please tell me why - I really want to understand the appeal.

Guns, Germs, and Steel

This book by Jared Diamond has been on my radar for a long time now, and I keep hearing how fantastic it is. The subject matter is indeed interesting, but it was way too detailed. If the book was half the length, I probably would have finished it. The main question the author explores is why certain civilizations developed technology and sophisticated weapons and why others didn't. One of his answers has to do with adopting food production, rather than hunting and gathering, and so a large part of the book is the entire history of agriculture in the world. I appreciate that he is trying to be thorough in his analysis, but it was just more than I was ready for.

Master and Commander

I have long been curious about this series of seafaring novels from Patrick O'Brian but they never sounded appealing enough to try until I read this review from Shelf Love which emphasizes the personalities of the main characters and acknowledges that it's ok not to understand the nautical terminology. This made me feel better about trying it, and I did actually enjoy what I read of it. It's a slow-moving novel though, and after 80 pages I believe the ship was just leaving port. In other circumstances I probably would have kept going, but I simply got distracted by other books. It's ok though - I'm glad I got a taste of O'Brian's writing.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)

August Pullman has always been different, has always endured the stares and gasps of people meeting him for the first time. He was born with severe craniofacial abnormalities and though he has endured surgery after surgery, he still doesn't look like a regular kid. Home-schooled through the fourth-grade level, Auggie is about to encounter the biggest, most frightening, challenge of his life: middle school.

No matter how much his parents and school administrators try to easy the transition, it doesn't change the fact that kids can be incredibly cruel. Thanks to his family and his few friends, Auggie has the self-confidence to make it (even if barely) through the really tough times, and his courage and resilience inspire kindness in others. 

The novel was extremely touching, as you would expect, but also laced with humor. Auggie's self-deprecating style is charming. When his friend Jack asks whether Auggie will be always look that way, or be able to have plastic surgery, Auggie points at his face and says "Hello? This is after plastic surgery!" Jack laughs hysterically, retorting, "Dude, you should sue your doctor!" Both boys then erupt in laughter before being chastised by their teacher.

Wonder is usually shelved in the children's department in libraries, but the appeal is ageless. We could all do well to follow a precept from one of Auggie's teachers and be kinder than necessary. If Auggie can manage to do it, as mean as people can be to him, then surely the rest of us can too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Escape From Camp 14

Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden (2012)

In 2005, a young man named Shin Dong-hyuk escaped from a political prison in North Korea, in which he had been born and lived his entire life. He is the only person ever to have escaped from such a camp. Washington Post journalist Blaine Harden spent a couple of years interviewing Shin about his experiences in order to write this book.

Shin has told a horrific story about the treatment of people inside the camps, where he was given only corn porridge and cabbage soup to eat and any infraction of the strict rules could result in being shot. The environment in which he was raised was so controlled Shin wasn't even exposed to government propaganda. He didn't even know about the existence of countries around him, televisions, or money.

After his amazing escape, he traveled aimlessly around China for months before finally starting to pull his life together. His biggest challenge in the outside world has been simply adapting to life among people who aren't prisoners, who aren't trained to snitch on each other, who aren't competitors for food.

In addition to Shin's personal story, Harden has included a lot of general information about North Korea which, for the most part, I found pretty helpful. There was gradually more of this contextual information later in the book, which broke up Shin's story a bit too much for me, but it didn't affect how eye-opening I found the book. 

As much as I struggle with non-fiction, I think I read this book in about 2 days. It's short - under 200 pages - but also incredibly compelling. I want everyone to read this book and talk about it. I really had no idea this was going on and now I'm very curious about North Korea and about why the rest of the world isn't intervening in these horrible abuses. Escape From Camp 14 is accessible enough for teenagers or those who struggle with dense non-fiction and I think it would be a great choice for a Community Read. I let a lot of interesting-sounding non-fiction pass by, but I'm so glad I gave this book a chance. So should you!

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Land More Kind Than Home

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash (2012)

In a small North Carolina town, a church has slowly grown under the leadership of a pastor from out of town who sees himself as something of a prophet. He uses snakes and poison in his services, so convinced is he of his religion's power to overcome danger. But when a young boy dies during a service, the rest of the town is no longer content to look the other way. 

The story is told from the point of view of three narrators: young Jess Hall, Sunday school teacher Adelaide Lyle, and Sheriff Clem Barefield. Their distinct voices are folksy yet genuine, and each told a different part of the story to create an intense, powerful whole.

My main impression upon finishing the book is to feel terrible for poor little Jess. Not only did he lose his brother with whom he was very close, but he wasn't allowed to go to the funeral or stay with his parents afterward. They sent him off to stay with his grandpa who he had never met, and who was of dubious character. His mother seemed fairly nice early on, though gullible for being involved in such a crazy church, but later on....oh, it became clear just what sort of person she was. Essentially, this is a story about a young boy with terrible parents.

But it's also about a small town dealing with evil in its midst, and I really appreciated how Cash developed the history of alliances and hostilities among the inhabitants, weaving in stories of the past with events of the present. Although Jess was closest to the current tragedy, Clem and Adelaide complemented his narration with their own, not unrelated, past tragedies.

I'm afraid one of the reasons this book was so satisfying to me is because of how much I dislike organized religion and I really enjoy when the super-religious go off the deep end and show just how wrong their ideas are. However, this isn't an anti-religion book at all, in fact I'd say that most of the characters are church-going folks. But it shows the deep divide between those who follow Jesus and those who think they ARE Jesus.

Not only do I think this would make a good choice for book groups, I think it could be an awesome movie, like a slightly friendlier Winter's Bone. Of course they will change the title to something stupid.

I picked up my Advanced Reader's Copy at the PLA Conference, but it hits shelves this week and I highly recommend seeking it out. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Knitting

I've reached the smocking portion of my Coraline cardigan.

To create a smocking pattern, basically you slip two stitches that are several stitches away from each other, wrap the yarn around those two stitches, then knit all the stitches in their original order. It's tricky to get the wraps to all be the same length. You can clearly see that I've failed at this. However, if you are close enough to notice this while I'm wearing it, you are too close for my comfort.

The weird ridge where the smocking area meets the rest of the body is (hopefully) because I put in a life line. I wasn't feeling confident about my smocking skills. I may take it out, but then again I'm concerned about my row gauge being a little off so maybe I'll still have to rip back. I'm very unsure of everything at this point, but the good news is that the weather won't be appropriate for this sweater for several months now, so there's no hurry.

Here's a rather messy view of Coraline in its entirety. Almost there! And almost out of yarn!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Wishbones

The Wishbones by Tom Perrotta (1997)

Tom Perrotta's first novel is about Dave Raymond, guitarist in a New Jersey wedding band. He's over 30 and still lives with his parents, and has been dating his girlfriend (who still lives with HER parents) on and off since high school. When Dave witnesses a member of another wedding band die, he's so upset he unthinkingly propose to Julie and now he's engaged, whether he likes it or not. (Mostly not.) Now that wedding plans are in full and enthusiastic swing, Dave meets a bridesmaid at a wedding and completely falls for her. He deals with it in the way you would expect from an immature, bumbling guy: not well at all.

I was partially sympathetic to Dave, but also wanted to slap him many times. He was a complete ass to those women. I don't feel like he had bad intentions though, I just think he was really stupid. Luckily, he was good-natured enough to make the book not only bearable, but a lot of fun. 

I really loved the whole idea of the wedding band, and the band members and other characters were all colorful and quirky. One member of the band found out at the beginning of the book that his wife was leaving him and he began totally falling apart. Another, single for so long his bandmates weren't even sure which gender he preferred, had spent years working on a musical about the JFK assassination. The third was a happily married father, but also an alcoholic. Minor characters, such as a racist and paranoid talk-show host who ironically calls himself Genial Jim, inject additional notes of hilarity throughout the novel. (I know he doesn't sound funny at all, but it was a funny scene. Trust me.)

Because this was Perrotta's first novel I wasn't expecting a whole lot, but I'm really impressed. I enjoyed The Wishbones as much as any of his other books. Maybe it doesn't delve as deeply into complex issues as Little Children or The Leftovers, but this light, funny novel was just as well-executed and pleasurable. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

PLA 2012 Part 1

I promised you a recap of the Public Library Association Conference I attended in Philadelphia back in mid-March. Finally here's Part 1, with Part 2 (hopefully) soon to follow.

Opening Speaker: Robert Kennedy Jr. 
He was so awesome and inspiring! I unfortunately missed the beginning because of registration issues, but really enjoyed his talk about environmental issues.

Getting eContent to Your Customers
As with many of the sessions, this was a panel of 4 people. I like this structure because with that many people, you know at least one of them will be interesting.

The first speaker was from ALA and, predictably, was very vague and about 10 steps behind everyone else. He talked about all the frustrations with ebooks and the fact that it is difficult for libraries. Tell me something I don't already know, ALA!

Next was Tom Peters from Illinois State University, whose theme was "war and revolution." He talked about the potential of econtent, and implored libraries to stop courting the big 6 publishers and start courting Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and possibly Google Books. 

Lisa Hickman from the non-profit publisher Dzane Books brought the perspective of a publisher who actually wants libraries to have ebooks. Their books are DRM-free and she says that, despite what the large publishers say, libraries DO help book sales. 

Finally we heard from Michael Porter of Library Renewal, a nonprofit organization that aims to partner with libraries to find new solutions for ebook purchasing. (In fact, my library has recently become a partner.) 

Essentially, while ALA is having a lot of committee meetings and discussions, other players are actually starting to take action. Groups like Library Renewal give me hope!

Meet This Season's Best in Debut Authors
Four newly-published authors talked about their books.

I've already reviewed Charlotte Rogan's book, The Lifeboat. 

Southern author Wiley Cash was raised in an evangelical church, and those experiences form the basis of his novel A Land More Kind Than Home, which I am reading now and will review soon. (Hint: it is good!)

Kira Peikoff has written a medical thriller called Living Proof, which takes place in a future United States in which destroying an embryo is first-degree murder. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Finally Stephen Dau spoke about The Book of Jonas, a very well-reviewed novel about a teenage boy from a Muslim country who is sent to the US after his family is killed. 

It was a great session and I came away with copies of all the books mentioned, which is a bonus!

Trends in Genre Series
Joyce Saricks is a great presenter but her talk was on Gentle Reads, which aren't big sellers here in the greater Boston area so I didn't take many notes.

John Charles of the Scottsdale, AZ public library presented on romance. This was interesting to me because I don't read in that genre at all, and I hadn't thought about how series in this genre are inherently difficult. One of the constructs is that in the end a couple has to hook up in a fairly permanent way, and you can't just have them break up in the second book so they can have more romances. So romance series tend to be about different people in the same town, for instance, or family sagas, or people who may be unrelated but are all cowboys. 

Becky Spratford, author of the Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror, spoke about the rise of graphic novels in that genre, which spurred me to read her recommendation Locke & Key (link.)

Finally, Keir Graft from Booklist spoke about crime fiction, which amusingly were categorized under headings such as "Mergers and Acquisitions" (when main characters from different series come together in crossover books),"Books by the Yard" (prolific authors such as James Patterson), and "From Beyond the Grave" (dead authors whose books are still being written.

This was just a huge list of many many program ideas from the San Diego Public Library. The important take-away from this session for me was that ALL staff can and should be leading programs. The speaker also emphasized the importance of partnering with the Friends and other organizations for programming.

Some of the specific ideas that I liked were the edible book contest, in which participants used food items to recreate some aspect of a book (if you scroll down a bit, there's a picture here)
and cooking programs such as their Iron Chef Salsa Slam. I also like their ideas about "passive programming," which is anything that doesn't have a specific event. For instance, a bulletin board where patrons can put up notes about why they love the library for National Library Week, or a program coordinating holiday mail for soldiers.

It was exhausting just typing this, and that's only half of the conference. I'll tell you all about the rest of it soon!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Golden Boy

Golden Boy: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood by Martin Booth (2005)

In 1952, when Martin Booth was 7 years old, his family moved from Britain to Hong Kong where his father was to be posted for 3 years. Martin quickly took to Hong Kong and its people, learning basic Cantonese and eating whatever was offered to him, no matter how off-putting. His willingness to immerse himself in Chinese culture earned him favor with the locals and gained him entry to places like Kowloon Walled City, a potentially dangerous area not generally open to outsiders. Some of his more colorful experiences recounted include visiting opium dens, eating beetles and preserved eggs, and digging up the bones of a Japanese soldier. His home life was also far from boring, his angry, gin-swilling father accusing Martin of "going native" (apparently a bad thing), his mother fun and pleasant, and just as taken with local culture as Martin. 

Booth's descriptions of his experiences - the sights, smells, and tastes of Hong Kong - are the heart of his book. Anyone who enjoys books that provide a strong and detailed sense of place will appreciate Golden Boy. The other main appealing part of the book is Martin's relationship with his mother. She loved Hong Kong and, like Martin, didn't ever want to leave. She was always up for adventure and included Martin in as many of her activities as possible, and seemed to really enjoy hanging out with him. Her husband certainly didn't appreciate the local flavor, so Martin was always her companion of choice. I found their relationship very sweet. 

I'm trying to decide if I would have liked this book as much had I not recently traveled to Hong Kong myself. It's clear that Hong Kong was very different in the 50s than earlier this year when I visited, so though many of the place names were familiar, that is where a lot of the similarities ended. (Though some of the food from the book is recognizable, as is the practice of locals hanging their laundry outside their windows.) Less a story than a slice of life, I think there is a lot in Booth's book that would appeal to anyone interested in travel and other cultures. 

Martin Booth left Hong Kong with hopes to return, and his family did return later for several years but unfortunately we won't hear any more about it as he died shortly after finishing the manuscript for this memoir. 

Have you read any good books with detailed descriptions of living in a particular place? Leave your recommendations in the comments!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sunday Knitting

What better remedy for a dreary day than a pair of bright orange socks?

These are the Milo Socks from Cookie A.'s Sock Innovation. Like most of her patterns it's fairly complex, but the instructions are clear. The Lorna's Laces yarn is wonderful. I have no idea how frequently I will wear bright orange socks but I'm sure I'll enjoy them even if it's just hanging around the house.

For reasons I cannot explain, it took me five months to knit the first sock and about two weeks to knit the second.

I love the pattern of X's and O's running down the back of the socks. 

In my haste, I forgot to add a second strand of yarn for reinforcement when working the heel of the second sock. So when I finished, I went back and very patiently duplicate stitched the heel. I hate duplicate stitch and I'm terrible at it, and I'm sure I managed to skip some rows. But it's still better than nothing, and much better than doing lots of darning later.

That is one cheerful looking gusset.

I've been working on these socks for so long, I've felt a little lost in the few days since I finished. But I'm sure I'll find something to fill the hole they've left in my knitting life.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Odds

The Odds: a love story by Stewart O'Nan (2012)

Art and Marion are unemployed, broke, and planning to divorce. They decide to take one last weekend and go to Niagara Falls and gamble with the last money they have. At this point in their desperation, it's just as good as any other plan. Art hopes to convince Marion not to leave him, though their marriage has been sullied by his long-ago, but still fresh, infidelity. 

I don't know how Stewart O'Nan is able to cram so much story into such a small book without making it dense. This was easy and quick to read and painted a detailed picture of Art and Marion's life together. It was vaguely depressing in that way that books about marriage are, their relationship comfortable in many ways but both partners harboring resentment, guilt, and other negative feelings they can't seem to get rid of. It felt very stifling to me as I was reading it, and I didn't know whether or not I wanted their marriage to survive. Neither outcome seemed especially happy.

This may be the most important weekend they have together, and anything that goes not quite right seems like a bad omen. In true O'Nan style everything is chronicled in great detail so we see even the smallest missteps or frustrations. This is the real pleasure of reading his novels; getting inside the characters' lives so fully that they are not only real to you, but as familiar as if you've known them forever. 

While this was not my favorite of his novels (that distinction still belongs to Last Night at the Lobster) it was still a pleasure to read his writing, and at only 179 pages the small investment in time is well worth the return in enjoyment.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Delirium by Lauren Oliver (2011)

In Lena's world, love is a disease. Everyone is cured through a medical procedure at the age of 18, at which time they are also matched with their spouse. It is a very safe and predictable life inside the closed borders of the United States. But there is a bit of darkness lurking behind Lena's sunny exterior - her mother was uncured though she had the procedure 3 times and in the end her disease killed her. Lena is afraid that whatever was wrong with her mother may affect her, and she cannot wait until she can have her procedure. Then, predictably, she meets a boy named Alex to whom she is immediately drawn. As she gets to know him more, Lena begins to unravel the web of lies she has been taught for her whole life.

A world without love is kind of a fascinating concept. When I began reading I was thinking mainly of romantic love - I hadn't even thought of familial love and what it would mean for that to be lost. But in this world, parents don't have love for their children. Many of the adults find babies to be too much work or a little distasteful, and given the choice most people wouldn't reproduce. Therefore, after being matched with a spouse they are also told how many children to have. As someone who is not interested in reproducing, that was a particularly chilling thought. (Interestingly, I came across a scene mentioning someone's pet dog, and I questioned why in this society anyone would have pets, but that was not explained.) Friendships were also affected, and Lena knew that post-procedure she and her best friend Hana would be in different social circles and no longer be friends. This is one of the most sad parts of the book to me because they were so close and so important to each other.

Another aspect of this society is that until cured, there is segregation of the sexes. When Lena sneaks into an illegal party, the presence of boys makes her uneasy. She notes: "No wonder the regulators decided on the segregation of boys and girls: Otherwise, it would have been a nightmare, this feeling angry and self-conscious and confused and annoyed all the time." That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? 

Post-cure life was bland, predictable, and devoid of joy. You'd think more people would resist the cure, but it is so ingrained in them that it's necessary, that everyone goes along with it and the few who resist are quickly reprimanded and frequently forced to undergo the procedure earlier than planned. And of course afterwards they don't really recall why it felt so important to resist and they claim they are happier and that the procedure is the right thing to do. Much has been invested in creating this worldview, from strict internet censorship to completely rewriting the Bible. It's pretty fascinating.

Just as with Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver has sucked me into her character's lives and drawn me into a story I just didn't want to put down. Honestly, I am a little burnt on dystopias, but even though it seemed familiar and some parts were predictable, I didn't even care. I just wanted to learn more about this world and see Lena come through everything ok. Plus the story takes in Portland, Maine - one of my favorite places! I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Pandemonium, which was just released last month.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Linger (Wolves of Mercy Falls #2) by Maggie Stiefvater (2010)

Now that Sam is cured of being a wolf, he and Grace are free to finally be together without worry. But when Grace's parents catch Sam sleeping over, it makes maintaining their relationship much more difficult. Also worrying is Grace's recent illness that becomes progressively worse throughout the book. 

In Shiver, the narration alternated between Sam and Grace, but in Linger two more narrators have been added - Grace's friend Isabel Culpepper and Cole St. Claire, one of Beck's new recruits. For the audio this means the story is now being read by four different people, which was fine as their voices were distinct enough to tell them apart. I was also happy that there was a different person reading the part of Sam.

There wasn't much story progression in this book. Through most of it Grace had a bad fever and other suspicious symptoms so I knew something bad was happening but it took a long time to come. Their relationship woes were surprisingly annoying given how much I enjoyed the romantic aspect of Shiver. But now Sam has become a total emo boy, and Grace is just a whiny girl insisting she cannot be kept from her boyfriend because they are in luuuuuuuuuve. It was all a little much. Yet not enough.

Eventually though, the story progressed in a way that was slightly game-changing and interesting. Although this one was pretty slow I think that may be symptomatic of being the middle book of a trilogy. I plan to go ahead and listen to the final book as well in hopes that it will be better and give me a satisfactory ending to the story.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Knitting

For the past week or so I have been a sock knitting factory.

Not only did I finish my first orange sock, but I started the second one and even made it past the heel turn.

That is a lot in itself, but I ALSO have knit about half of a black sock just on my bus commute.

That equals an entire sock in a week, a feat I have not achieved since back in aught-eight when I spent a week at my mother's house in Maine while she was having radiation treatments. That equaled a lot of boring rural Maine time combined with a lot of waiting room time. I have somehow managed to replicate that productivity through a careful combination of bus commuting and old episodes of the X-Files.

The black sock is the Twin Rib pattern from my favorite sock book, Sensational Knitted Socks. I wanted something simple I could do on the bus while listening to audiobooks. I can knit close to two inches a day on my regular commute. At this rate, I should be able to make an entire drawerful of socks in no time.