I'm Liz, and I'm a librarian (duh)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The year that was

Well, despite my best intentions I have not been the best blogger this year--I did all right the first half of the year but then things sort of spiraled out of control...but here we are at the end of the year and I feel sort of compelled to make some kind of year end statement or reflection.

I wish I had something profound to say, but my whole year is pretty well defined by the last three months since my son was born. I am heading back to work right after the new year, on the 3rd. My daughter started preschool, which only underscores the fact that she is definitely not a baby anymore, plus she turns 4 on Monday. Just three days ago, the baby rolled over for the first time, and yesterday he had his first cereal, so he's getting big too. I'm still exhausted, and I have no idea how I'm going to get myself and the two kids out of the house my 7 am everyday, but at least once I go back to work I'll have something else to worry about than the last time somebody ate or pooped or took a nap.

On that note, crying child #1 has arisen from his nap. Happy new year!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Slacker mom

Okay, I am totally embarrassed by the fact that my last blog post was in JULY...I have clearly fallen by the wayside in the whole book-a-month thing. That is not to say I haven't been reading--I have, and have been updating my librarything accounts and my iRead or ibook or whatever they're calling it now on facebook--but I haven't been reading on task, and I definitely haven't been blogging about the books. In my own defense I have been kind of otherwise engaged: I had a baby five weeks ago, and worked full-time up until the day before I gave birth (3 weeks early), and my husband was away in Alaska for almost 3 weeks during my 7th/8th months leaving me alone with my 3 1/2 year old while everyone I worked with went on vacation during the final throes of summer reading. Still, a deal's a deal and I clearly haven't been holding up my end of the bargain reading challenge-wise, so I need to somehow make myself feel better by confessing here, whether anyone actually reads this or not.

At this point I am so sleep deprived it's a wonder I read anything except bedtime stories to my daughter, but I am trying to get through a few things. I managed to get a copy of David Sedaris' newest book and am snickering my way through that ten pages at at time, or until I fall asleep. Before that I read Barack Obama's Dreams from my Father (which I started out of a sense of duty, but then got hooked), American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (I love, love, love her!), Chelsea Handler's Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea (again with the snickering, or in some cases, weeping with laughter), and now I am in the middle of listening to the final book in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn.

Now, because I haven't finished this yet, I should probably not even say anything, but I had mixed feelings about this book because I didn't exactly love the previous books in the series. Bella as a character annoyed the daylights out of me, with all the swooning over Edward's marble arms, stony chest, blah blah vomit. She was such a totally dependent character, and her obsession with Edward seemed like the worst kind of teenage mooning about. Plus, I am firmly on the side of team Jacob, because Edward always seemed a little too goody two-shoes for my taste. Then, because I didn't read the book in the first week it came out I found out some key plot points--like Bella and Edward do get married, and she gets pregnant, and Jacob imprints on the daughter while she's still a fetus--so I debated whether I really needed to read the fool thing at all. But, I am reluctant to admit, so far this book is appealing to me more than the first three. I think it's better written than the previous books, and Bella isn't such a whiner in this one, at least not after she becomes a vampire. But I think my hang-up was that I didn't want her to become a vampire, but now that she has I realize it's more interesting this way--and Edward isn't such a Puritan with her anymore, which was also getting pretty tiresome. So, making a long story short, I'm enjoying it much more than I thought I would. Of course, because I am listening to it, I can only get through it so fast so it's a little slow going--I find myself looking for excuses to go on long car trips and I haven't had too many occasions to go anywhere while home on maternity leave. But I'll confess to being probably a bad mother--I do listen with my 3 year old in the car--the language is pretty clean, the sex is alluded to but never described, and she doesn't know what a vampire is yet, anyway. Plus, it puts her to sleep sometimes, which is a bonus.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

In search of the first fortune cookie

Let me just start by saying that it's a good thing this month's theme was broad, because otherwise I don't think I'd have been able to do it this month. Now if the theme had been, oh, let's say, summer reading club preparation, I could have written a book about that, but as it was the theme of knowledge was about as lucky as I was going to get. The only book I read this month that fits this theme was Jennifer 8. Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. And as it turns out, it's pretty appropriate. Inspired by an unexpectedly high number of Powerball winners who all won on the same day with the same numbers pulled from fortune cookies, Lee sets out to find out the origin of the desserts, which are suspiciously un-Chinese in character. Her research takes her all over the country and eventually all over the world, to see how "Chinese food" differs regionally in the U.S., from country to country, and often barely resembles actual Chinese cuisine at all. Lee also touches on the issues that have surrounded Chinese immigration to the U.S. and the important role Chinese restaurants have played in the lives and livelihood of Chinese immigrants. She does finally get to the bottom of the fortune cookie conundrum, and along the way offers some possibilities for the world's "best" (admittedly a biased label) Chinese restaurant.
I'm not going to pretend for a minute that this is the most academic book I've ever read, but considering the month that just ended, I'm just lucky I was able to fit it in at all. And I have had a terrible craving for General Tso's chicken ever since I finished reading it!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Didn't we almost have it all?

Ugh, motherhood. I had to think long and hard about this one. I have a mother, I am a mother, and I am currently exactly halfway through a pregnancy, so I am about up to my eyeteeth in motherhood these days. I'm not really the Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul type, so I chose something a little less feel-good: How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-at-Work Moms by Wendy Sachs. I actually bought this book for myself about two years ago, when I had been back at work a little less than a year after my daughter was born and was feeling totally overwhelmed and overtired. And then I never read it. Basically, like pretty much every mother, I am busy with too much other stuff to read, both for work and for pleasure, and I didn't want to waste my precious free time on this, which felt a little like taking my medicine. Fast forward two years, and suddenly this seemed like the perfect title for the challenge.
Sachs is a freelance TV producer and mother of two, and wrote this book because she felt pressure to stay at home with her kids and pressure to work for financial reasons and for her own self-esteem. And in talking to other moms she knew, she found that she wasn't alone in her conflicting feelings. This led Sachs to expand her research and she interviews all sorts of working mothers, mostly professionals, including television journalists, celebrities, lawyers, bankers, politicians and entrepreneurs, and gets their take on how they manage to balance a full-time job and being a full-time mother.
What's both discouraging and heartening is that pretty much everyone, no matter what they do, is burning the candle at both ends. The hours are terrible, when you're at work you wish you were with your kids, and when you're home with your family you feel guilty because you know there are things you should be doing at work. The good news is everyone, rich or not-so-rich, is in pretty much the same boat. The bad news is, there are no secrets to successfully negotiating this, except toughing it out and sacrificing. Some women "opt out" of the workplace for their kids and end up totally derailing their careers, to the detriment of their finances and their sense of self. Indeed, she cites motherhood as one of the greatest indicators of a woman's future financial ruin, mostly because of divorce but also because a woman's potential for future earnings is pretty poor if she has a 10 year hole in her resume.
It's hard for me to review this impartially, mostly because I am full up with hormones and this book strikes a little close to home. One mother in the book calls her situation a house of cards, where one weak card being pulled out can cause the whole thing to fall apart, and I must admit that's exactly how I feel pretty much all the time. The book isn't so much about self-help, but more about encouraging women who feel like they're at the end of their ropes that they're not crazy (or wrong, or bad mothers) for wanting careers despite being mothers. At the end of the day, what works for one person won't necessarily work for someone else, but these women show that there are lots of ways to cope.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On Beauty

Wow, if only this book a month challenge was a few years ago--I could think of tons of great books having to do with beauty, but they were all books I'd already read! What a bummer. The very first book that came to mind was Scott Westerfeld's Uglies (or the sequel, Pretties), so I decided to read the 4th book in the trilogy (I know, it's not really a trilogy if there are more than three...): Extras. The premise for the series is that in the future (this is sci-fi) everyone gets this special surgery when they turn 16 that makes them beautiful--tall, good skin, even super-strong bones, you can choose your eye color, whatever. People even live in a special Prettytown once they get the surgery, so as not to mix with the pre-surge uglies. Everybody gets the surgery, so the playing field is level as far as looks are concerned. Unfortunately, as we find out, the surgery also makes people stupid--while everyone is having their outsides beautified, the doctor's also alter people's brains so they lose any kind of curiosity or inquisitiveness they may have had naturally. All the better for the government to manipulate them! That is, until Tally Youngblood and her friends expose the government's plot to keep everyone dumb and beautiful--what will ever after be known as "the mind-rain;" people still get the surgery, but without the mind-altering component. That's the first three books in a nutshell--when we begin Extras it's a few years later and Tally and her friends are revered for saving all humanity, studied in textbooks by schoolchildren the world over. The surgery is still rampant, but the entire economy is based not on looks anymore, or even money, but on fame and popularity. In the Prettytime (before the mind-rain) people were able to just ask for anything they wanted and get it, apparently without money, but now people have to earn what they want, either by doing community work or by simply being famous. How famous you are depends on how frequently people talk about you on their "feeds," sort of video gossip magazines people have wired into their brains (or their houses, etc.). Our heroine is Aya, a fifteen-year-old ugly waiting for her sixteenth birthday so she can become pretty, but even more anxious to become famous for kicking a big story. The whole city is ranked by how popular people are, and Aya's face rank is 451,396, which is to say she's what people refer to as an extra. I gotta tell ya, the plot is pretty convoluted and the message seems a little muddled (is it bad to want to be famous or not??), but Aya discovers a pretty big story, enlisting the help of her big-face (super-famous) older brother Hiro, his friend Ren and Aya's love interest, Frizz. Suffice it to say that this story is so big that none other than Tally Youngblood herself contacts Aya, and they all go off to try and save the city (and maybe the world) from what they perceive to be aliens who want to blow up the planet. Or maybe they don't. This is definitely a book that needs a little background, and I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who hasn't read the previous books. The first in the series, Uglies, is the best of the bunch, and it ends with enough of a cliffhanger that you need to keep going just to find out what happens to everyone!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

How to be BAD: the handbook

Golly, as we get further into the year here, the challenges just keep getting more challenging! Anyone who knows me will tell you, crafts are not my thing. It's really kind of sad--on the rare occasions I am responsible for doing crafts with storytime or something the kids are always better than me. Coloring inside the lines is about the limit of my crafting ability, and that's only if I concentrate. I do have hobbies, or at least interests, but overall when faced with the theme for this month I was at a total loss, partly because I have read quite a few memoirs/biographies lately, and I wanted to branch out a little for the challenge. So maybe I'm stretching the definition of craft here, but I decided my book this month would be Peter Sagal's The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them). I admit I do listen to Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me on NPR, so I was partially drawn to the book out of thinking Peter Sagal is a pretty smart and funny guy, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little curious about the subject matter. And I have to hand it to him, he does deliver--there are chapters devoted to swinging, strippers, gambling, consumption (of goods), eating, lying and pornography. But it's not enough to just talk about these things--you need to define your terms, which he does in the introduction. I mean, how do you know you are engaged in some honest-to-goodness unsavory behavior? Basically, it comes down to three things--you know you aren't supposed to be doing it, you enjoy doing it, and you feel shame about it (when you get caught). I am writing this in the wake of the Eliot Spitzer scandal here in the NY tri-state area, and thinking this would have been a good book for him to read about 10 years ago. Anyway, it goes without saying that more than one of the chapters in this book take place in Vegas, and Sagal interviews all sorts of people (both professionals in the fields and avid amateur pursuers of each pastime alike) to get as comprehensive a look at some of these vices as possible. As fascinating as some of these stories were, I still was left feeling like I didn't get why people would do pretty much any of these things--and Sagal basically feels the same, as summed up in his afterword. But it takes all kinds to make the world go around, and who am I to judge?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Young love, sort of

After having so many books I wanted to read and blog about last month for the time theme, I was sort of stymied when trying to come up with just one book about love, or romance or, failing that, with "heart" in the title. I guess I just don't read that many romances. Or at least, conventional romances. I do like books with a love story, but it's not my first choice of subject matter. I guess it's not even really fair to say that, but I guess for me the formula of the couple meeting, falling in love and living happily ever after isn't what I prefer, and the tragic stuff gets depressing if you read too much. But I realize I'm kind of in the minority here, given the multi-billion dollar potential for romance writers.

I did, however, find something that fit the bill perfectly for this month, a little book by Sara Zarr called Sweethearts. A very quick read, the book is the story of Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick, two third graders who are the social outcasts of their community, and have miserable home lives to boot. Jennifer's mother works and goes to school and just isn't around very much, but Cameron's father is at least psychologically abusive, and the author alludes to the probability of physical and sexual abuse as well. The only bright spot in either child's life is their relationship, and suddenly even that is gone. One day, Cameron doesn't come to school, and after a few days kids begin telling Jennifer that they saw on the news that Cameron died. When she hears this, Jennifer asks her mother who doesn't confirm or deny the story, but allows Jennifer to think that this is what has happened. Things turn around for Jennifer as the years go by--her mother finishes school, gets a regular job, and meets and marries a great man. Jennifer herself loses weight, forces herself to try to make friends, starts a new school where no one knows what a pariah she used to be, even changes her name from Jennifer Harris to Jenna Vaughn (taking her step-father's name) to complete the transformation. For all of high school the change fools everyone, even Jenna--until her birthday in the fall of senior year, when she gets a mysterious letter in her mailbox addressed to Jennifer Harris, the name that symbolizes the outcast she used to be. Of course, Cameron is back--not dead, but still with many secrets, and causing a stir among Jenna's friends. The really compelling part of the book is Jenna's and Cameron's relationship now that they are older. They were too young to be real sweethearts back in third grade, and now that Cameron's back there is sexual tension that teeters on the edge of turning into something real, but is overshadowed by everything else going on, particularly Jenna's desire to maintain her image as a normal, happy popular girl. Jenna's struggle to come to terms with Cameron's reappearance feels real, trying as she does to negotiate her boyfriend's jealousy and her girlfriends' romantic interest in Cameron while figuring out her own emotions. The writing reminded me of Gabrielle Zevin's Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, another quick read for teens by an author to watch.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Race: A History Beyond Black and White

This challenge really was a challenge, because I have a few books I've read this month that could be considered for the theme, and the runner-ups were: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, and Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin, both of which were personal stories and/or memoirs written for an adult audience. However, after much deliberation, I decided on Marc Aronson's Race: A History Beyond Black and White, a non-fiction book for teens (or at least older children). I looked at reading this book for this challenge as the reading equivalent of taking my vitamins; I knew it would be well-written and informative, but it wasn't exactly topping my list of must-reads. Still, it did get many very positive reviews and I thought it would be a good choice for the month in which we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. And I was pleasantly surprised--it was less academic than I expected it to be, but just as informative. Basically, Aronson traces the history of race and racial prejudice, concentrating mainly on the US and Europe, but acknowledging the fact that divisions are drawn down racial lines all over the globe. One of the more shocking revelations is the fact that the concept of race is really a rather recent development--and it can pretty much be directly traced to the start of Christianity. This book was written for teens, but adults looking for a concise introduction to the subject will find this helpful as well.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's official, the holidays are finally over. We had our last quasi-holiday (actually a double birthday party) over the weekend, so I can begin the detox process from all the cake I've been eating for the last month and a half. If I'm being honest I can't really complain about all the eating because right after Christmas I had an enforced cleansing/diet situation, by which I mean I had a stomach virus, so two days of no eating at all. I know, it's not healthy, but at least it was over quickly and I don't feel too much guilt about gorging myself on xmas cookies.
So this year I am choosing not to go the physical self-improvement route with my new year's resolution, but instead have chosen to rise to the book a month challenge thrown down by a fellow blogger. And true to her word the first month's theme was posted on January 1--the theme is, appropriately enough, time. So there are lots of choices and decisions to make. I would like to at least start this off on the right foot and not cheat by twisting whatever I am already reading to fit the theme, but here it is only the 2nd week of the year and I am already feeling behind. Lately I have actually been reading more adult books than children's or teen, so I think my final decision is going to be something children's, and I've got my eye on a couple of weighty non-fiction titles that I know will be good but will take me a while to get through--this is starting to sound like taking my medicine. My deal with myself with have to be this: if I do something boring and dense one month, I'll balance it out with fluff the next month.