may-july 2011 reading

Reading My Father by Alexandra Styron — Depressed people are hell to live with, although probably not quite as hellish for everyone else as they are to themselves. Alexandra Styron is the youngest daughter of William Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice and several other novels as well as Darkness Visible, a memoir about what turned out to be only his first bout with depression. His daughter’s book is interesting primarily I think if you’ve read Darkness Visible, which ends with Styron coming out of his depression and once again beholding the stars, which is a nice way to end a book (thanks, Dante!) but not, sadly, as it turns out, a true one. You might also enjoy it if you like reading about the sort of crazy lives of ridiculously wealthy people.

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen — I look forward to a new Sarah Dessen novel the way a kid looks forward to a holiday involving candy. So sweet, so yummy, so something you shouldn’t probably overdose on.

R Hard Laughter by Anne Lamott — I reread early Anne Lamott novels whenever I’m having a hard time, and her splendid nutty northern California families always, always make me feel better. Hard Laughter is a funny book about a woman whose father is dying from cancer. I am not kidding.

Through the Cracks by Barbara Fister — Our June mystery selection. As soon as I heard I was going to be in charge of a mystery book discussion group, I knew we’d read one of Barbara Fister’s novels. This one has a terrific setting mostly on Chicago’s west side, a kick-ass protagonist, and enough social justice content to make me happy.

R All New People by Anne Lamott — I think this is my very favorite of her novels. It’s framed with the story of a woman going back to her hometown, but the novel itself is her recollection of childhood, and of growing up in a time when suddenly people’s parents were divorcing and kids were doing drugs, and everyone has a messy and complicated but somehow wonderful life.

The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron — As I’ve noted, I’m not a mystery reader by nature, but I’m often surprised by how much I end up liking the books for our mystery book discussion. This one, about a game warden in Maine with an estranged alcoholic father now suspected of murder was great.

R Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott — I read this a long time ago before I ever even thought of being a mother. Now that I am going to be one, I thought I ought to reread it. You will probably like it even if you are not, like me, a Jesus freak who loathes George Bush (this book takes place during the reign of the first one) because it is so very funny.

Black and White by Dani Shapiro — I have, rather astoundingly, read three novels based on the lives of people who had a photographer parent or friend of a parent who took photos of them that are either artistic or pornographic, depending on your point of view. The others are Miranda Beverly-Whittmore’s The Effects of Light and Kathryn Harrison’s Exposure. Harrison’s differs from the other two in that the photographer is a father, not a mother or a woman, but all three deal with grown women attempting to come to terms with having had a childhood and coming of age that was intensely private made into very public art. One would think there would eventually be a limit to the amount of psychological territory one could explore in such a story, but I’ve enjoyed all three books and would happily read any of them again.

Wrecker by Summer Woods — A three year old boy goes to live with his uncle up in far northern California after his mom is busted and sent to prison, but he ends up being raised by a bunch of people on a commune next door. There’s an underdeveloped plotline wherein his uncle is a logger and one of the commune dwellers goes off to be a tree spiker, and I was hoping for more of that story, but even without it, it’s a pretty good book.

The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham — I was interested in this memoir for both personal (my father killed himself, too) and writerly (how would a book written as an annotated index work?) reasons. I think Ann Marlowe did more interesting things with the index concept in How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z, but it also works well for these sort of differently written mini essays that attempt to sort out unanswerable questions.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine — Sort of an update of Sense and Sensibility: a New York City matron is divorced by her husband and unceremoniously dumped from their apartment, and so she and her two adult daughters (one sensible, one silly) go to live in a rundown beach cottage in Connecticut. I laughed and laughed.

some kinds of help

I read The Help a few years ago. I’d like to say I purchased it for the library because I knew it was going to be big, but I suspect it had more to do with my interest in reading about the Civil Rights era and wondering how a southern white woman would handle the topic. I haven’t seen the movie and probably won’t — I rarely see movies at all, and I tend to stay far, far away from anything the entire rest of the world is talking about (and oh, how our patrons are talking about it).

I have, however, been reading with great interest the reviews of the movie that my friend Cecily has been posting, because they both confirm what I thought — that this is a movie designed in large part to allow white people to feel good about themselves — but also add to my understanding of the vast gaps in my understanding of race and what it means and how it feels.

Any time I’m at a conference or something that offers a diversity workshop or session or training, I go. I don’t do this to get accolades (oh, who am I kidding? I always want accolades — I don’t know any white person who doesn’t want to be cool like that) — but I do it also because I’m endlessly fascinated by the ways in which we fail to perceive the experience of others and how that failure has consequences for so many people.

Yesterday in the mystery book discussion group I run here at the library, we were talking about Tom Franklin’s book Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. It’s about a white boy and a black boy who are secretly friends for a brief time as teenagers and who then grow up — the black man to be a local baseball star turned town constable; the white man to be a recluse whom everyone suspects of murder. Of course everyone talked about how it’s so unexpected to have those roles reversed. Sigh. Sigh that we think of them as “roles,” sigh that we so automatically have an idea of who should be cast in which part, sigh that we think our noticing that we have that expectation means we are enlightened people.

And everyone wanted to talk about The Help, which almost everyone had read and everyone was planning to see. Everyone who had read it liked it — hell, I liked it well enough — it’s a good story, it’s got likeable characters and some that you just love to hate, and, as I mentioned, if you’re white, it’s exactly the sort of book that lets you feel really good about yourself. So when someone asked what I thought, that’s what I said. That it was a story that worried me a bit because it was too easy to dismiss as a story. That it’s like the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement that says “Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat and Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and now everything is better!” That it was a little sad that in 2011, we were all going to see black actresses play domestic workers.

And that got us into a bit of a discussion of current problems — of the cabdriver someone had who said no, he couldn’t make a right on red, of the coworker someone else had who wasn’t allowed in a gated community. At moments like these I always wish I had an endless supply of copies of Peggy Macintosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, and then I think what a total snob I am for thinking that I’m doing a better job at humanity just because I’ve read the thing so many times.

I love to read about the Civil Rights era because it was so complicated. It’s like the line in Matthew about “I come not to bring peace but a sword.” Some days I’m all about Gandhian nonviolence and some days I’m down with by any means necessary. Some days I get furious at the black kids in SNCC for kicking the white kids out, and some days I think it was completely necessary. And I think about how Dr. King’s dream was Malcolm X’s experience when he went to Mecca, but how pretty much none of us live in that world most of the time. And then I read and think some more, and some more, and try to live my days with grace.

an announcement

Dear Internet,

I interrupt the irregularly scheduled programming around here to let you know that I am expecting a baby boy in 2012, due in theory on January 20.

Thank you in advance for your congratulations and good wishes. I am not sure I can recommend moving 1200 miles, starting a new job, getting pregnant, and buying a house all in the course of nine months, but I never like to do anything by halves.

I’ll doubtless write more about all of this over on my other blog, but in the meantime, I just wanted you to know.

Love,
Laura

but they didn’t teach me that in library school!

If you haven’t participated in — or at least read — a “things they didn’t teach you in library school” thread on a listserv or a discussion board or in the FriendFeed LSW room or somewhere, I am concerned that you have not spent nearly enough time mucking around on the internet.

Such threads are ubiquitous: every few months, someone clearly feels the need to explain that they never learned how to troubleshoot laser printers in library school. Other frequent items include

  • dealing with difficult patrons (especially if they’re intoxicated and/or asleep)
  • “project management” (I have no idea what this is, but everyone seems to think it’s a skill librarians need and one they should have been taught in school)
  • management anything
  • ditto leadership
  • budgeting
  • technology (just name one)
  • web design
  • graphic design

As these threads go on, they tend toward the absurd (“how to stamp books” “Chinese”), and at the end, you’re left with this baffling list of stuff that’s sort of all over the map, most of which will never get incorporated into any library school curriculum anywhere, for reasons of bureaucracy and intransigence and in some cases sheer impracticality.

Aaron Schmidt and Micheal Stephens have a piece in this month’s Library Journal that throws user experience (or UX, if you’re hip) into the mix. They’d like to see library school students learn to interpret and employ user research, to conduct usability testing and run focus groups, to design effective library buildings and graphics.

Now I am pretty down with that whole list. Every building I’ve worked in has major design flaws, and far too many of them have had terrible signage and brochures full of bad font choices. And of course I’m a big fan of usability testing. It all sounds good to me. Good, but unlikely.

I get a little irked with these lists of “things that should be taught” because they strike me as both useless and whiny. My how to improve library school plan has always been short and sweet: Admit smarter people and teach them more stuff. It doesn’t really matter to me what you teach them — if you get the first part of that equation right, they’ll end up learning stuff regardless.

And I guess that gets me to my real point. We’re lucky enough to be in a profession that encourages learning and that is full of helpful people who want to teach you things. If you’re in library school and you’re not learning stuff, then go out and find some things to learn on your own. (Trust me, your coursework will not really suffer, and nobody in later years is going to care what kind of grades you got anyway.)

You can teach yourself to do all sorts of things. You can read blogs and books and articles. You can talk to people. And you can realize that you actually already know a lot of stuff because of other things you’ve done.

Expecting library school to teach you everything you will ever need to know about being a librarian is somewhat akin to expecting your parents to have taught you everything you’ll ever need to know about life by age 18. It’s just not going to happen. And in libraries, as in life, sometimes you just have to learn the hard way.

 

my take on the swartz situation

I’ve been responding here and there on FriendFeed with my thoughts on the whole Aaron Swartz situation, but I’ve got enough of them that they merit their own blog post.

As I’ve noted before, I am not a lawyer, and I have no thoughts whatsoever on the probably legality or illegality of what Swartz has been accused of doing. And as Nancy Sims has clearly documented, his legal case is not a copyright case — and I am in no sense a copyright expert.

But the Swartz case fascinates me nonetheless, because it is puzzling and because it poses huge, potentially revolutionary questions about scholarship, ownership, and access.

But let’s start with the puzzling:

  • Aaron Swartz is a fellow at Harvard and thus presumably has access to JSTOR there. He decided, however, to do his data scraping via guest access at MIT.
  • JSTOR does allow for special use cases if you need to get a whole bunch of stuff, but he did not ask them about this project. (I’m unclear on whether their special use would extend to 4 million articles, of course.)
  • The prosecution claims that Swartz was going to release these 4 million articles publicly, but there’s no evidence of that. Swartz has done big data-mining things for scholarly articles before, but there’s no evidence that he was or was not going to do something similar with these articles.
  • Swartz himself hasn’t released any statements about his intentions.

So, puzzling indeed.

Then there are the possibly revolutionary questions that I, at least, think his action raises — or makes more visible. These questions have been around for years, and, as Barbara Fister notes, librarians have done just about everything but set themselves on fire in an attempt to get other people to notice.

  • For whom is scholarship intended?
  • Who owns — or more properly, who should own — scholarship?
  • What constitutes fair and reasonable access to scholarship, and how does the computer age change that?

I’ll continue to follow Swartz’s case because, hey, I love a good internet scandal. But what I really hope will happen as a result it is that more people will focus on those questions — and that more things will change.

oh, you mean organizing skills!: activism as management metaphor

Long before I ever imagined becoming a librarian, I was an activist, and being an activist, as it turns out, has taught me how to be a librarian — or more precisely, perhaps, how to be a manager librarian.

Like many people, I had to take a required management class in library school. I loathed this class. I loathed it from day one, when the adjunct professor started talking about Dilbert and reading Peter Drucker to us. I did not go into librarianship in order to make a profit. I did not go into librarianship in order to talk about Who Moved My Cheese?. I did not go into librarianship in order to bandy about terms like “human resources.” (I quote the great Utah Phillips: “You’re about to be told one more time that you are America’s most valuable natural resource. Don’t ever let anyone call you a valuable natural resource? Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources in this country? Have you seen a strip mine? Have you seen a clearcut in the forest? Have you seen a polluted river?”)

They stuff they teach in management courses doesn’t resonate with me. It makes me ill. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. I think a lot of us went into librarianship because we didn’t want to participate in the market economy (and then, of course, we discovered database licensing and realized we were screwed on that point, but that’s another matter for another time). We may have made our peace with the fact that we do have to buy and process things in order to share them with our communities, but damned if we’re going to start saying utilize for use or making everyone read Good to Great or idolizing the Starbucks corporate model.

I talk about the reader’s advisory approach to life a lot (to the point that I was sure I’d written a blog post about it, but apparently I haven’t). If you do any reader’s advisory, you know that the first premise is that “x is a great book!” is a very unhelpful way to help people figure out what to read next. You have to figure out what they’re looking for in a book, what appeals to them, and try to find things that line up with that. It’s a refreshing approach to literature if you’re coming out of academia (and particularly out of a writing program). I try, then, to extend that idea as much as possible to the rest of life. If one set of metaphors doesn’t work for me, or one activity, can I find something that will?

And that’s when I hit on it: every skill I needed as a library manager was something that I’d actually learned as an activist and organizer.

I attended my first political meeting at age fourteen, in August of 1990. Saddam Hussein had invaded a country called Kuwait, which I’d known until then only as one of those tiny places in the Middle East — a place the New York Times described as “a family-owned oil company with a flag.” The United States was pondering intervention, and I was opposed to the idea, so when my friend called and said there was a meeting about it at the university that night, and did I want to go, I said sure.

In high school I protested a war, I helped defend an abortion clinic, I marched against the Ku Klux Klan. I wrote letters to editors and Congressmen. I sat at tables and sold buttons, and I stood on street corners and handed out leaflets. I worked as a marshal at marches, wearing a white armband and walking along the edge of the crowd to help keep things moving and to help prevent fights with hecklers. I went to lectures and read newspaper articles. I watched the vote to authorize the use of force in the Gulf on my friend’s television on January 15, 1991, and I listened to Neal Conan reporting about the start of the ground war on my Walkman while at a meeting at Schaeffer Hall a month later. And I went to a lot of meetings.

I went to tiny meetings like that first one, eight or so people in a room trying to take an amorphous idea, a feeling, and turn it into a movement with a name and a purpose. I went to bigger meetings where we argued about points of unity. I went to meetings where we made signs (the cement floor of North Hall, the sound of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and  the scent of permanent markers will be forever wedded in my memory). I went to meetings where we planned teach-ins and meetings where we planned actions.

I’m 35 years old now, and off and on for twenty years I’ve been spending part of my time this way — as an antiwar activist and later as an anti-sweatshop and labor rights activist. That activism has taught me skills — how to plan an event, how to write a press release, how to engage people, how to speak in public, how to listen to people and how to talk to them — and it’s given me lifelong friends, and it has, perhaps more than anything I’ve ever done, made me who I am.

There are, I suppose, other ways to learn to deal with disappointment and rejection and failure. There are other ways to learn to find your voice, other ways to learn to wade through bureaucracy (getting money into and out of the UI Students Against Sweatshops student business office account at the University makes any budget cycle irregularity I have dealt with since seem simple), other ways to figure out how to inspire people to join a cause or to work together. But I learned all these things — all of which are crucial to my day-to-day work — not from any management guru, but from my comrades.

When I hear people talking about leadership and project management and teamwork, I often think I have no clue what they mean, and that these are skills I totally lack. Then I start to think about it, and I realize oh no, I do know. They mean organizing. And that? That I do know how to do.

So when people ask for my favorite management book, I say Rules for Radicals. When they want to know where I look for examples and inspiration, I say the Civil Rights Movement (and I mean the real stories, not just the Rosa Parks sat on a bus and Martin Luther King had a dream and now everything’s hunky-dory version — read the accounts of organizing the Montgomery bus boycott, and you’ll learn a lot about working with other people).

technology football

Back when I first moved to Wyoming, my friend Jim was attempting to teach me to talk about sports. Largely this is because he thought it would be very entertaining if I were to walk into the Wea Market some morning and say to the guys, “Wow, the Patriots just ran right over the Bills last night.”

I never did it, because, among other things, I’d have had to pay attention to the names of the teams playing and who won,* and because the only other cliches I could remember were “the penalties are just killing them!” (for football) and “they’re not lettin’ ’em play!” (for basketball), but I was always convinced I’d get them mixed up, and God knows I hate more than anything to sound like a fool.

I’ve been thinking about these sports cliches, though, and about the nature of sports commentary in general, which seems, on television at least, to involve largely meaningless statements made by guys in poorly-fitting suits, when I was listening watching the commentary on Google+ roll by over the past couple of weeks.

You could set yourself up as a tech commentator about as easily as I could set myself up as a sports commentator. Just memorize a few key phrases — “______ killer,” “privacy concerns,” “the new Facebook,” “if Microsoft/Apple designed a ______” — and you’re set to go. Since you’ll probably be doing this all from the comfort of your computer, you don’t even have to wear a suit (or anything at all, for that matter).

As I’ve never been a sports fan, I’ve always found the talk inane. I suspect I’m wrong at least in part — I’m sure that out there, if you look, and if you care, there are people saying intelligent things about sports, just as, if you look hard enough, there are people saying intelligent things about technology. But the fact is that most people who are interested in one or the other aren’t necessarily looking for great wisdom — they’re looking for a chance to shoot the shit. The guys hanging out at the Wea Market the morning after a game talk about it in part because it’s a nice way to avoid starting the workday for a bit longer, but mostly they do it because they like talking about it, the way one likes repeating one’s favorite bits of movie dialogue.

I can complain all I want about the idiocy of tech talk, but that didn’t prevent me from getting a Google+ account the minute I got a chance.

This is turning into less an interesting post about an idea and more into a moralistic post about tolerance — but I do think it’s worth thinking about. It’s maddening to me that people make a living from saying “Nexus S is the iPhone killer,” but, in point of fact, I recently got a smartphone and spent a long time considering which one I wanted. We can complain all we want about the inanity of tech talk, but until we ourselves stop using the tech, it’s bound to be a bit hypocritical.

*And, indeed, I would not have had an example for this post were it not for Steve Lawson.

april 2011 reading

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte — The Ask is supposed to be this hilarious novel about an aging Gen-Xer trying to fight his way back into his disappointing job doing fundraising for a school in Manhattan he calls Mediocre University. The writing is clever, and I enjoyed the descriptions of the place the protagonist lives in college, The House of Drinking and Smoking, but I can’t say I actually enjoyed the book, which seemed to challenge my willing suspension of disbelief without doing enough to reward it.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard — The mystery book discussion book for this month. Everyone else loved it; I was bored to tears by it, although it did help out my insomnia several nights running.

The Mother Knot by Kathryn Harrison — A very slim, nearly throwaway volume by Kathryn Harrison (whom I adore) about coming to terms with her mother. A lot of people looked down on The Kiss as writing-as-therapy, but it’s much too artful a book for that. This one feels a little more like that, but if you like Harrison, it’s worth the hour it’ll take to read it.

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud — This is in some ways two books — a satirical look at the lives of socially privileged not-quite-so-young people in Manhattan in 2001 and a book about 9/11. But the second book wouldn’t exist without the first. The first is hilarious, at least if you like novel of manners sorts of books, but what I particularly liked about the second book was the way it showed how major traumatic events derail everyone’s lives in unexpected ways, and how some of those are ways they can never talk about because the tragedy of them pales next to the tragedy of the main event, and so you are left numb twice over, and you feel worse when everyone assumes your numbness is the same as everyone else’s.

I also read lots of poems, especially by Aliki Barnstone and Robert Pinsky, whom I had the great pleasure of hearing read on April 23.

accompaniment in the library

One of the first things I learned in library school (despite my sometimes disparaging comments about the general state of library education, I did learn some things there) is what I now think of as the IANALIANADIANAA disclaimer. I Am Not A Doctor I Am Not A Lawyer I Am Not An Accountant. If you work in a public library, you know the drill: I can help you print off a list of workers comp attorneys in the area, but I can’t give you any advice about your workers compensation case. I can help you search MedlinePlus, but I can’t give you a diagnosis or advice about your prescriptions. I can show you where the tax forms are, and I can even print more off for you, but I can’t do your taxes.

Those are all easy enough: my legal knowledge is close to nonexistent; my knowledge of medical conditions, despite being the daughter of a doctor, is limited solely to psychiatric disorders; and I have a computer program do my taxes.

But often I get questions at the desk that are looking for other kinds of advice, and these are harder to interpret.

At my first-ever library job, I worked regularly at the children’s desk. I got a lot of questions from adults, though, perhaps because the actual reference desk at that library was a fortress-like monstrosity with staplers and scissors chained to it, or perhaps because I was closest to the copy machine. One evening a young woman came in with a paper she was writing, wondering if I could proofread it.

I was fairly certain that this was outside the bounds of “other duties as described,” and that I was in fact supposed to tell her that I could not do that for her. But it was a quiet night in the library, and it was a short paper, just a page long, and I used to teach freshman composition. I said okay. I did a quick job, fixing just proofreading stuff, since that was what she had asked for, but she clearly needed more help. I asked what school she went to. It was a community college nearby, so while she went to use the computer, I did a little sleuthing. Sure enough, they had what sounded to me like a writing center. I jotted down the information, and before the patron left, I gave it to her, suggesting she stop by or give them a call. She thanked me.

Then I emailed the contact person I found listed on the page for the center, just to let him know I’d sent someone there, and hoping that it was the right place. He wrote back the next day, and I still remember his words. “It breaks my heart that students don’t know about the center.” I told him I’d do my best to spread the word.

Over the years as a librarian I’ve gotten a lot of questions from patrons that hover on the boundary between providing library reference services and providing advice. I’m not, I suppose, supposed to tell people that their resume would look better if they formatted it differently, or that yeah, it does sound as though the situation with their landlord does sound like a case for the tenant-landlord association. And I don’t go right out and tell them these things, or walk around looking for those situations. But I can’t claim never to have answered such a question.

The other night I went to hear a talk by the historian Staughton Lynd. He spoke about the organizing mistakes of SNCC and of SDS‘s ERAP project*, and about the philosophy of accompaniment. He realized, he said, that after he got his law degree and went to work with steelworkers and later prisoners, that he suddenly had skills to offer to a fight that belonged to both of them, not just some amorphous idea of how he wanted to help people and do good. And he talked about something his wife Alice said at the time, when she was doing draft counseling: “The meeting between the draft counselor and the draft counselee is a meeting between two experts.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more perfect definition of library work, and I got to tell Alice Lynd that after the talk.

In her case, she was the one who knew all about draft boards and regulations and the requirements for being a conscientious objector, but the draft counselee was the one who was an expert on his own life, on what it would mean for him if he had to go to war, on what it would mean for his family and his own conscience.

I am an expert on searching databases and using basic computer programs. I am an expert on circulation policies. But the patrons are the experts on their own lives — on their job searches, on their quests for knowledge, on the books that got taken with a non-custodial parent after a divorce, on the experience of having a relative or friend in the prison system whom they’re trying to locate.

I always tell people that I went into librarianship on the theory that at least it would do no harm, and that’s true, but that’s not all of it. I went into librarianship because I have the skills for it, and because, as it turns out, those are useful skills. They’re skills that allow me, even for just the few moments of a reference transaction, to encounter another expert, and to work together with her. I am, daily, humbled by that experience, and I hope I always will be.

*Remind me some day in my copious spare time to contribute to some of these Wikipedia articles.

march 2011 reading

Half in Love by Linda Gray Sexton — Sexton’s mother was the poet Anne Sexton. The younger Sexton has already written one book about dealing with her mother’s death, so a second might seem unnecessary, but if you are interested in the way that suicide plays itself out in families over time, this is worth a look.

Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer — Half the reviews I’ve read of this call it a yoga memoir and the other half call it a mommy memoir. I might be inclined to call it a recollection of your parents splitting up memoir, if I were to call it anything, but I very much enjoyed it. If you do yoga, you’ll like the funny parts about the sort of ridiculous nature of yoga. If you have kids, I would guess you might enjoy the parts about the inanity of raising kids in a time of über-politically correct parenting. And if you’re interested in the changing demographics of families and how one thoughtful person thinks about them, you will certainly like it.

[reread] The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson — My first selection for our mystery book discussion group. I’m not generally much of a mystery reader, which makes for an interesting time now that I’m in charge of a mystery book discussion. Since I’ve just moved from Wyoming, I thought I’d give the group a little taste of what it’s like there. They seemed to enjoy it.

Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman — This is sort of a book-length response to the people who were trying to flagellate Waldman after her 2005 essay about loving her husband more than her children appeared in the New York Times. It’s occasionally tedious, as collections of essays that end up being a bit repetitive sometimes are, but it’s also hysterically funny. Well. At least it is hysterically funny if, like me, you fall off the sofa when you read “It is kind of remarkable how little housework the men who marched next to me at the Take Back the Night vigils have ended up doing.”

Among Others by Jo Walton — My favorite novel of this year so far. It’s about a fifteen year old girl from Wales who is in boarding school and reads a lot of science fiction and tries to find a karass. Wonderful. I’ve read maybe 10% of the books she talks about, and even that little bit gave me shivers of remembering what reading them was like. If you’ve read more, the effect could only be intensified.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman — I’ve been wanting to check this out ever since reading about it over at Jenna’s place. Actually, just go read her review, which says pretty much everything I would want to.

Happy Trails to You by Julie Hecht — I picked up The Unprofessionals by Julie Hecht at the La Grange Public Library some years back because it had a nice looking cover. I started reading it and was hooked immediately by the voice and later by the story. I’ve been saving her latest collection of stories for just the right occasion, and apparently that occasion was now. The narrator — the same in all her work — is a cranky, misanthropic devotee of Dr. Andrew Weil who is sort of anti-immigration, and yet somehow she still manages to make me want to hang out with her. That seems like an accomplishment in of itself.

[reread] Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones — RIP, Diana Wynn Jones.