Friday, July 30, 2010

Book 20: The Raven and the Swan

TITLE: The Raven and The Swan
AUTHOR: Laurie Grant
STARTED: July 18, 2010
FINISHED: July 26, 2010
PAGES: 299
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: "Oh, there you are, Dame Ancilla."

SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] Miles Raven had been a star of the glittering Tudor court, yet courtly manners seemed to have little sway in the north country. Especially with Gillian Mallory, fresh from the cloister, and open to all that life had to offer.

Raised in a convent, Gillian had little knowledge of the outside world, and even less of men. Miles Raven seemed to be a man of honor, but he was also handsome as the devil, and full of honeyed phrases aimed at tempting even the most virtuous of maidens...

THOUGHTS: Oh, old school romances... how you amuse me so. This is definitely a prime example of the type of historical romance novel you would expect to find in the early nineties. Let's run down the checklist shall we.

Manly hero? Check.
Manly mane of hair? Check.
Heroine with a heart of gold? Check.
Heroine is naive and untouched? Check. (Bonus points for coming from the nunnery.) 
Damsel in Distress? Check.
Introduction of secondary characters meant to fill out the scene? Check.
Random cute animal? Check.

Huge misunderstanding that never would have occured in real life? Check.
Dastardly villain with no redeeming qualities whatsoever? Check.
Sketchy character meant to aid the dastardly villian with no redeeming qualiites whatsoever? Check.
Token appearance of a real life character? Check.
Happy ending that resolves all outstanding issues way to quickly? Check.

Yup. It was just that kind of book. Nostalgia win.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book 19: This Book is Overdue!

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us AllTITLE: This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
AUTHOR: Marilyn Johnson
STARTED: July 10, 2010

FINISHED: July 18, 2010
PAGES: 272
GENRE: Books About Books

FIRST SENTENCE: Down the street from the library in Deadwood, South Dakota, the peace is shattered several times a day by the noise of gunfire - just noise.


SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] In an information age full of Google-powered searches, free-by-Bittorrent media downloads and Wiki-powered knowledge databases, the librarian may seem like an antiquated concept. Author and editor Johnson (The Dead Beat) is here to reverse that notion with a topical, witty study of the vital ways modern librarians uphold their traditional roles as educators, archivists, and curators of a community legacy. Illuminating the state of the modern librarian with humor and authority, Johnson showcases librarians working on the cutting edge of virtual reality simulations, guarding the Constitution and redefining information services-as well as working hard to serve and satisfy readers, making this volume a bit guilty of long-form reader flattery. Johnson also makes the important case for libraries-the brick-and-mortar kind-as an irreplaceable bridge crossing economic community divides. Johnson's wry report is a must-read for anyone who's used a library in the past quarter century.

THOUGHTS: I am only slightly biased when I say that I liked this book. Okay, that's a lie. I'm incredibly biased when I say that I liked this book. I am a librarian afterall. I like the idea that we're saving everybody. That said, I did not love this book wholeheartedly. There were flaws abundant among the stories of librarians being awesome.

The whole point of This Book is Overdue! is to explain to readers how librarians and libraries are fantastic. That is not a premise which is difficult to argue. Aside from the occasional Fox New Story, most people are aware that libraries do good things. So, what Johnson has written is a love letter about libraries, the work they do, and the goals they hope to achieve. That all sounds good to me! Johnson does a nice job of showcasing all the ways in which we librarians rock - from archivists, to author helpers, reading promotoes, the freedom fighters. We do rule.

What Johnson fails to do is show the flaws of our industry. She brings up the occasional technological issue, but neglects to mention the greater problems of the profession and its work. I would have loved to see a serious discussion about how a lot librarians are protective whiners instead of proactive advocates. I would have liked to see more information about how we are outdated (yes, I admit, Google does it faster than we ever could... but they can't always do it better).

Additionally, I wish Johnson had followed through with her stories and arguments. Often times she'd bring up a point, use a narrative illustration, and then just jump to something else. There was no follow through or discussion of greater impact of her ideas. Every story felt individual. There was no broader discussion of the profession as a whole.

The book was a fun, quick read. If you're a librarian it's an ego booster. It was all things nice, but could have used a lot more substance and a bit less "We all wear superhero capes to work."

I also wonder how many non-library types would actually read this.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Links and Stuff: 7/29/2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Variations on a Theme: Books with Pictures!

I should probably start keeping a file of ideas for Variations on a Theme. It took me forever to think of a topic for this month. Then again, that's what happens when I wait until the last minute to work on these posts. If you've got an idea or theme you'd like to see, leave me a comment.

In honor of Comic Con, I present this months theme: Graphic Novels. For the first time ever, I've read all of the main featured items.

WatchmenThe Watchmen
Alan Moore

Its the classic. It's a superhero story without any superheros. I liked it.


The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1Sandman Series
Neil Gaiman

If you are in the mood for a unique, creative, and kind of trippy graphic novel... then you can't go wrong with Gaiman. Not only is it fun to read - the complexity of the story will stick with you and make you think long after you've finished the series. This is one of my favorite graphic novel series.

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale (No 1)Maus
Art Spiegelman

This graphic novel is critically acclaimed and with good reason. The Holocaust can be difficult to grasp emotionally. The art and story style of the books humanize the story by using animals as characters. The metaphors of cats and mice make the themes of the book easier to understand, but in no way lessons the impact of the horrors of this genocide.

The Complete PersepolisPersepolis
Marjane Satrapi

Iran and it's Islamic Revolution are to parts of history and society that I find fascinating. Satrapi's dramatic work does a fantastic job of showcasing one person's experience in the country. While the graphic style of this novel is amazing, what I found most intriguing was the human encounter with the politics and society of the time. I also recommend the movie.

A.D.: New Orleans After the DelugeA.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
Josh Neufeld

This item is another book that brings a vast (and ongoing) tragedy down to a tangible human level. Neufeld writes a compelling story without exploiting those he chronicles. Also, the visual images of this book are amazing - particularly the colors. Twas quite a good read.


The ArrivalThe Arrival
Shaun Tan

A story told entirely pictures... and what glorious pictures they are. The Arrival is a brief work, but the images, story, and emotional impact resonates far beyond the covers. A beautiful story and one that is beautifully drawn.



Other Graphic Novels and Related Titles:
American Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang
American Splendour: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar - Harvey Pekar
American Widow - Alissa Torres (My review)
Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know - Paul Gravett
The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders - Emmanuel Guibert
Pride of Baghdad - Brian K. Vaughan (My review)
Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995 - Joe Sacco
The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America - David Hajdu
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art - Scoot McCloud
V for Vendetta - Alan Moore
Y the Last Man - Brian K. Vaughan (My reviews)

Links and Stuff: 7/22/2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Useful Things: Feed Me


Last night I ate the most amazing meal. If you're in the D.C. area, go to Zaytinya. It is my favorite restaurant and I kick myself for not going more often.

In honor of the flavors that are still in my head, today's  Useful Thing is all about the food. NoTakeOut is for everyone who wants to cook at home more than they order out.

The whole point of NoTakeOut is get get those who don't cook to cook more. The website assumes that you normally walk in the door and call the Thai place down the street. NoTakeOut gets rid of the excuses. Every day, they post a recipe for that night's dinner. Each recipe lists the ingredients you will need to purchase (on your way home), the ingredients you should have in your pantry, and step-by-step instructions (yes, even steps like "get out your tools" and "put water on to boil.") Check out Today's Menu and see the set-up for yourself.

You can sign-up for the free e-mails or peruse the website itself. On the website, you can also read Food for Thought, past menus, and visit their store. For those of you with smartphones, NoTakeOut will soon have a mobile app - so you don't even need to print out a shopping list.

I am not one to order out every night (ouch, my wallet and arteries), but I love receiving a new, tasty looking recipe in my e-mail every day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Wait, he's talking....



It's my birthday, so I'm posting something that has kept me amused for a week. Eye candy delivering brain candy. My hero.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Book 18: In Praise of Slowness

In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed (Plus)TITLE: In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed
AUTHOR: Carl Honore
STARTED: June 29, 2010

FINISHED: July 9, 2010
PAGES:  310
GENRE: Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: On a sun-bleached afternoon in the summer of 1985, my teenage tour of Europe grinds to a halt in a square on the outskirts of Rome.

SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] A former "speedaholic," an award-winning Canadian journalist advocates living a slower, more measured existence, in virtually every area, a philosophy he defines as "balance." Honoré's personal wake-up call came when he began reading one-minute bedtime stories to his two-year-old son in order to save time. The absurdity of this practice dramatized how he, like most of the world, was caught up in a speed culture that probably began with the Industrial Revolution, was spurred by urbanization and increased dramatically with 20th-century advances in technology. The author explores, in convincing and skillful prose, a quiet revolution known as "the slow movement," which is attempting to integrate the advances of the information age into a lifestyle that is marked by an "inner slowness" that gives more depth to relationships with others and with oneself. Although there is no official movement, Honoré credits Carol Petrini, an Italian culinary writer and founder of the slow food movement in Italy, with spearheading the trend to using fresh local foods, grown with sustainable farming techniques that are consumed in a leisurely manner with good company. The author also explores other slow movements, such as the practice of Tantric sex (mindful sexual union as a road to enlightenment), complementary and alternative medicine, new urbanism and the importance of leisure activities like knitting, painting and music. For the overprogrammed and stressed, slow and steady may win the race.

THOUGHTS: I like a book that tells me I should do everything in a more leisurely manner. I really do. What I don't like is when a book makes me feel guilty for not following its advice. I appreciate the goal of Honore's book, but I wish it didn't feel like an informercial.

The point of In Praise of Slowness is to give the reader an appreciation for conducting their life in a more leisurely manner. Honore breaks down his book into various chapters that divide life into sections such as work, food, sex, etc. In each chapter, Honore shows how life can be conducted more slowly. He backs up his overarching narrative with personal experience, scientific studies, and interviews with other followers of the slow lifestyle.

This set-up is remarkably persuasive. Honore makes his readers want to slow down their lives, even if it is just a little bit. I found that the text had a remarkably calming effect on me. I did not feel the need to rush through the text, even though I had to read it in time for book club. Addtionally, I felt calmer in my everyday life - I did not feel as frustrated as I normally do on my commutes. So, I have to hand it to Honore, he did a fantastic job of making me want to lead the life he is discussing.

On the downside, Honore's text made me feel guiltly. I don't do many of the things he suggests. I can't afford to. As one of my book club members stated, he overlooks the financial and community costs of the slow lifestyle. I don't make enough money to buy organic food from the farmer's market, I can't afford to spend my leisure time in skill development classes, etc. Honore's book is full of awesome ideas, but it comes across more as wishful thinking than reality. Because of that, I feel guilty for not attempting to do things more slowly.

I guess what Honore is advocating for is a better balance in life. We can do things quickly, but we should be aware of our speed and attempt to slow down more often. I think this book is chock full of ideas and I heartily recommend it, but I think it's foolhardy to believe that everyone can follow all of the ideas it contains.

RATING: 8/10

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book 17: In The Company of the Courtesan

In the Company of the Courtesan: A NovelTITLE: In The Company of the Courtesan
AUTHOR: Sarah Dunant
STARTED: June 13, 2010
FINISHED: June 28, 2010
PAGES: 371
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: My lady, Fiammetta Bianchini, was plucking her eyebrows and biting color into her lips when the unthinkable happened and the Holy Roman Emperor's army blew a hold in the wall of God's eternal city, letting in a flood of half-starved, half-crazed troops bent on pillage and punishment.


SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] Dunant's latest historical romp follows the fortunes of a beautiful, flame-haired courtesan, Fiammetta Bianchini, who, after escaping from the 1527 pillage of Rome, sets up shop in Venice. The novel, narrated by Fiammetta's servant, a dwarf, chronicles the pair's horrific scrapes and their dizzying triumphs, which include Fiammetta's becoming Titian's model for his "Venus of Urbino." Along the way, Dunant presents a lively and detailed acccount of the glimmering palaces and murky alleys of Renaissance Venice, and examines the way the city's clerics and prostitutes alike are bound by its peculiar dynamic of opulence and restraint.

THOUGHTS: You know, the fact the title of this book was In The Company of The Courtesan, I probably should have known that it would not be told from the courtesan's perspective. The fact that the narrator and main character is the courtesan's dwarve companion should have been more obvious to me. Whoops. That's what I get for not paying attention. Oh well. Dunant's book was still a fun read, but not as engaging as The Birth of Venus.

What I appreciated most about Dunant's work is the way she develops the characters and the setting. For this book to work, the reader has to believe that Fiammetta and Bucino have been together for ages. Dunant throws you into the story and lets the past narrative unfold with the present timeline... and it works. I never felt like the characters were forced together to suit Dunant's needs. The relationship between the main characters was so realistic, I would have no trouble developing a connection to their story. This is the second of Dunant's novels that I have read and, just as with The Birth of Venus, I truly enjoyed spending time with all of the characters in the book.

A prostitute and her dwarf would make for an entertaining story on their own, but Dunant includes characters who surprised me. Some characters who I thought would be cast-offs became major players, and characters set-up to be plot changers disappear off the page without much impact. It doesn't matter what their role in the book was, all of the characters are richly created and none of them seemed forced into the scene.

Dunant also excels at bringing her setting to life. Here, Venice leaps off the page - in all its smelly glory. Dunant writes the true grossness of Venice's lesser neighborhoods with the same detail and vivacity as the glittering homes on the Grand Canal. Dunant's stories often rely on pieces of art as their muse, and she paints a vivid picture in the reader's mind. As with her other works, I would love to see this book handed over to a cinematographer.


If you decide to read this book, I recommend for the writing style and characters. The plot of the story is not overly unique or inventive, but it's a good book nonetheless. Just know one thing, the cover of the this book and the blurb on the book are misleading - the story is so much more complex and compelling than advertised.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Friday, July 16, 2010

Study like a scholar, Scholar.



It's not YouTube Tuesday, but this video was too awesome to pass up. Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Links and Stuff: July 8, 2010

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Useful Things: Pros and Cons

It's getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that it is an election year. I see more lawn signs on my walk to the metro each day. The one thing I ask is that campaign commercials are kept to a minimum... but I digress.

This election is contentious (aren't they all) and it can help to have an unbiased (or known biased) view of the issues. That is where ProCon.org comes in handy. The website presents all sides of the issues, leaving it up to you to decide where your opinion and viewpoints lie. ProCon.org is a non-profit, non-government affiliated source. You can read more about who they are and their methods in their extensive About Us and Theoretical Expertise sections.

The website is quite large and complex, but there are several important features. The front page is the main dashboard for controversial issues (including, medical marijuana, illegal immigration, climate change, and milk.) Under any given topic, you can read an overview, the core issue, a list of the top 10 pros and cons, and additional "Did You Know" facts. Outside of the content itself, ProCon.org shows you have to both use and cite the website. Finally, a Teacher's Corner shows educators how to best you the website and its content.

ProCon.org also lets users get involved by signing up for e-mails and letting them suggest topics.

I suggest picking a topic and clicking around from there. ProCon.org is as addictive as Wikipedia.

*Hat tip to The Centered Librarian

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Dr. Who?



I have recently become rather addicted to Dr. Who. Hence, today's video. The relevant part that made me smile is toward the end.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Book 16: Hiring, Training, and Supervising Library Shelvers

Hiring, Training, and Supervising Library ShelversTITLE: Hiring, Training, and Supervising Library Shelvers
AUTHOR: Patricia Tunstall
STARTED: June 6, 2010
FINISHED: June 17, 2010
PAGES: 109
GENRE: Library Science

FIRST SENTENCE: There is more than one way to end up as a supervisor of library pages.


SUMMARY: [From amazon.com] How do you find good library shelvers and keep them for more than a few months? Tunstall gives practical advice to help you do just that with a complete overview on how to hire, test, train, and retain shelvers. A complete toolkit, this book includes templates for signs advertising employment, screening tests, interview questions, employment letters, job descriptions, and employee assessments; the dos and don ts of hiring and firing; checklists for procedures and training.
Every librarian will be able to hire, train, and supervise library shelvers with confidence with Tunstall s down-to earth advice.

THOUGHTS: If I was new to my position, this book would have been a lifesaver. I've been the Stacks Supervisor of a university library for a few years and, while this book did teach me a few things, it mainly reinforced many of my current procedures. I highly recommend this book to someone new to this type of supervisory position, particularly if it's in a public library.

My one quibble is that this book feels tailored to the author's library. I wish she had made mention of or included information from other types of libraries. While much of the information can be easily translated to the reader's situation, it would have been nice to see what the author had in mind.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]