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ARC POLICY: Chronically Behind on Writing Reviews

March 15, 2012

Dear Publicists, Publishers, Authors and Generous Book People,

I am in graduate school, pursuing a Masters in Information and Library Science.

While the program is fascinating, the coursework and reading load are a little intense.

And I have fallen behind on book reviews. Please limit the books you pitch or send me to the following  categories:

  • Historical fiction
  • Foodie lit or foodie memoir
  • Historical mystery or forensic-based mystery
  • Extremely well-written YA  genre fiction (no vampire romance, please!)

I will still be posting book reviews here when I can. But I cannot guarantee a timely review of your book, though I will do my best.

Thank you so much for keeping me Surrounded By Books

- Elizabeth

Interesting Things I’ve Read Recently

April 16, 2014

It’s National Library Week. Yay Libraries! Support them! I would like to find a job in one  of them soonish.

In honor of National Library Week, Humans of New York asked librarians:

What’s the sexiest thing about working in a library?

This answer is pretty perfect:

“”I’d say the width of our knowledge. The rest of academia seems to have a rather specific focal point, whereas librarians need to know enough to serve as a guide for researchers of every discipline.”

And last night, I saw another Humans of New York post, this time asking: “What’s the sexiest thing about being a library technical assistant?”

At first, I grinned at this, delighted and entertained.

But… a post by Poindextrix made me reconsider:

Librarians constantly have to deal with the sexualization of the profession and it’s, frankly, ridiculous. Librarians as individuals are sexy. Knowledge is sexy. Books are sexy. But the sexy librarian trope doesn’t help anyone and emphasizing that when you have such a great opportunity to help people understand the greater importance of libraries in our changing society is absurd.

Yes. And that could be fodder for a whole, deeper post itself, or maybe even a journal article, unpacking the ideas around librarians, imagery and popular culture.

This is a much better way to celebrate National Library Week:

Quotation from Neil Gaiman: It's still National Library Week. You should be especially nice to a librarian

And here are some links not about libraries:

Rick Bayless on his Massive Mexican Culinary Research Library. Rick Bayless. Culinary Research Library. The only thing about this that could make me happier would be if it were local.

I’ve been meaning to get myself better versed in comics. I’ve seen references to Ms. Marvel, but this very much piques my interest.

Interesting Things I’ve Read Recently 4/2

April 2, 2014

Fighting Over The Field of Dreams (the Atlantic). As a fan of both Shoeless Joe and Field of Dreams, I will be curious how this plays out.

A quarter century ago, in rural Iowa, a Hollywood crew built a temporary baseball diamond for a now-classic movie. Maintained as a tourist attraction since, the field has recently been sold, and a developer’s new plans for it are dividing some of the community’s landowners. Which raises a curious question: Should the field’s fake authenticity be preserved?

Read it Again, Dad (Morning News) on the ways the pleasures of rereading a favorite book are tied to childhood comfort.

Yes, Audiobooks Count (NY Times) A librarian writes a letter to the Editor, referencing a NYT article on Audiobooks and the Return of Storytelling.

Let’s please stop this false competition about whether listening to a book counts the same as reading one the old-fashioned way on paper or the newfangled way on an electronic device. The more ways there are for people to read, the better.

Amen! Did I mention, she’s a librarian?

Although I’m usually dismissive and sarcastic when the likes of Vanity Fair tell me about a trend, I’m currently fascinated by the idea of “normcore.” As someone whose sartorial style can mostly be summed up as “does it fit, can I afford it, and is it machine washable?” I am all for a fashion trend that leads to being able to find more comfy shirts and jeans that fit nicely. It seems that carefully and artificially constructing a specific sort of bland casual (see Vanity Fair) is especially missing the point here. If this leads the opening of a Kohl’s near me, I am all for this trend lasting forever. Though worried that this will cause the prices on comfy long-sleeved T’s to rise.

Interesting Things I’ve Read Recently: 3/21

March 21, 2014

Twitter, journalism, private lives, public speech (via Slate)

 The new, virtual man on the street doesn’t even need to be aware of a reporter’s existence in order to turn up on a highly trafficked news source with name, photo, and social media contact information embedded. It’s the journalist’s “right” to reproduce these public statements, sure. But our rights are expanding radically, while our responsibilities to our sources are becoming more and more optional.

Harsh Early Reviews of 20 Classic Novels (via mentalfloss). I expected to find The Catcher in The Rye on this list, but was surprised at the specific commentary.

New York Herald Tribune Book Review said “Recent war novels have accustomed us all to ugly words and images, but from the mouths of the very young and protected they sound peculiarly offensive … the ear refuses to believe.” 

Seriously? The profanity is the problem, and not the fact that Holden’s a whiny little jerk?

How to Remember More of What You Read (via Lifehacker). Read it aloud, try to picture it, repeat… these pieces of advice seem facile, and I can’t tell whether it’s because they are or because they’re reminders of simple and important things to do.

Schrödinger’s Cat Speaks
is a strange and haunting comic by Helen Craig and Shing Yin Khor. I think I need a hug.

I haven’t had a chance to read either of these yet, so stashing them here to save for later:

The History of American Women Through Books (via YALSA) – a roundup of YA historical fiction set in America.

The History of British Women Through Books (via YALSA) YA historical fiction, set in Britain.

More I haven’t had a chance to read yet: Catagator’s Links of Note is an excellent roundup of several key threads running through YA discussion recently, and some really interesting YA genre reading lists that emphasize diversity.

Interesting Things I’ve Read Recently

March 13, 2014

An assortment of stories and links that have caught my eye recently.

The Most Important Lesson Schools Can Teach Kids About Reading: It’s Fun. (The Atlantic). Especially important when testing and reading scores are getting so much attention. Not going to lie: there were plenty of times when having a book assigned made it into drudgery and leached any pleasure out of the experience. But I read plenty outside of school (and I still do.) I honestly have no idea how to create a love of reading where there isn’t one, because a love of reading is so much part of my experience.

How Public Libraries Are Solving America’s Reading Problem (Forbes) With 978,701 titles published or self-published in a year readers are drowning in books. Libraries to the rescue!

Finally, libraries increased in relevance as centers for book discovery.  Last year, 2.9% of frequent readers said they’d discovered their last book at a library, a big jump from 1.8% in 2010…According to the Pew Research Center, libraries remain the most trusted institution in the United States, ahead of the military, small businesses, the police or religious institutions.  A staggering 91% of Americans say that libraries are important to their community. In fact, in an era characterized by mistrust and dysfunction in government, libraries became laboratories of democracy.

I haven’t read all the books on the World Book Day list of 50 YA Novels That Will Change Your Life. I am not sure I agree with all the ones I have read that made this list. And I still haven’t read Wuthering Heights. Oops.

Worth remembering: Procrastination Is Not Laziness. Sometimes it’s perfectionism. (ThoughtCatalog)

Binge-Reading Series

March 7, 2014

It seems like everyone talking about television lately is talking about binge-watching a series. Netflix has even started to cater to that impulse, releasing an entire season of House of Cards, to much acclaim and discussion.

Grad school means I absolutely don’t have time to churn through an entire weekend’s worth of watching a series. I haven’t even caught up entirely on watching the new season of BBC Sherlock. My grad school addled brain can’t handle the intensity.

I’m amazed I’ve found time to read as much fiction as I have, given work and grad school. But, somehow, I’ve found a way to churn through multiple books of a series. On several different occasions over the past few months.

The Billy Boyle books. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first two of these World War II mysteries, grabbed the next two for my Kindle and then forgot about them, and went off to read other things. I don’t know exactly what got me to pick up the series again, and discover that it had somehow grown to seven books. (Full list here). All of which I proceeded to read, one after the next. My favorite thing about the series is the glimpse at different settings and experiences of World War II. Billy’s adventures take him to Italy, Malta, and Northern Ireland. (Billy’s heritage as an Irish American from South Boston made that last one especially interesting.) Another good part of the series is the way Billy’s character matures through some dark, harrowing and violent events. In the first book of the series, Billy is young, brash, and frankly kind of a doofus. Later books leave their mark of danger and loss on him, and temper him into a more balanced character.

The Tiffany Aching stories by Terry Pratchett. This is sort of a series-within-a-series, as the books are part of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. It begins with The Wee Free Men and carries out into A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight. Young Tiffany is growing up in a village on the Chalk, where there are absolutely not witches. Ever. Tiffany is levelheaded for a young girl, brave, and good at making cheese. Tiffany is Granny Aching’s granddaughter. Granny Aching herded sheep, smoked terrible tobacco, knew everyone’s business and wasn’t a witch…. probably. Tiffany is a witch, has encounters with various mythical realms, and saves the day with a frying pan. Tiffany is also being looked after by the Nac Mac Feegle, tiny blue pixie men who like to fight, steal, drink, yell and swear, and are devoted to their Big Wee Hag. Just about every passage with the Nac Mac Feegle made me giggle. “Ach! Crivens!” The series was just what I needed: magic and adventure, some highly silly bits, and tensions and dangers far removed from the real world. I’d definitely read more of these.

The Mitford Years by Jan Karon. A friend who knows how much I love James Herriot recommended the first book, At Home in Mitford ages ago, and I found a volume of the first five books available as an e-book at the library. A few weeks (and a few stayed-up-too-late reading nights) later, I had churned through all five books. The stories center around Father Timothy, Mitford’s middle-aged Episcopal priest, and the doings of small town Mitford. Father Timothy has a giant dog who calms instantly when he hears Scripture quoted; a sullen teenage foster son named Dooley; Type II diabetes and a parish full of characters. I enjoyed the rural small town setting, that took place a few years ago, but because of the smallness of the town and the focus on individual lives, it could be anytime from 1950 to 1990. (a plot thread of being frustrated setting up the parish computer and modem was about the only thing that pinpointed the timeline). I enjoyed reading about a community drawn together by strong faith. I kind of envy them, really. The number of times when someone, faced with indecision and stress, would choose to pray about it, or the characters who make a decision to stop being antagonists, turning on the linchpin of discovering new faith. I found the books charming and comforting, good reads as counterpoints to my own stress. It also reminded me of the TV series Ballykissangel. Which I should try to find on Netflix and rewatch at some point.

Temeraire by Naomi Novik.

An alternate history of Napoleonic-era England. With talking dragons. I’m not honestly sure what led me to seek this out now. I have a long-standing prejudice against talking animals in fantasy. (Which reading the Diane Duane Cats of Grand Central series might be starting to shift).

I don’t remember who recommended these books to me.
I zoomed through the first, and have started reading the second. I like Laurence, adjusting to culture shock as he transitions between strict naval culture and more relaxed dragon rider culture. I like the sweetness of his relationship with Temeraire. I like Temeraire’s curiosity, and sense of humor. Temeraire kind of reminds me of the dragon in How To Train Your Dragon, lively and childlike.
I’ll probably be adding this series to my binge-reading list.

Book Review: The Cats of Grand Central

February 26, 2014

While the second book has decent enough exposition, these two books work well when read in sequence. I’d love for there to be more of this series!

The Book of Night With Moon
Diane Duane
(library book)

I’d been putting off reading this, even though I am an avid fan of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards universe, and a sucker for fantasy novels set in New York. I have never been a fan of having talking animals as characters. So I let that put me off. (My dubiousness about talking animals as characters comes from being very creeped out by reading Watership Down in junior high.

And boy, was I wrong. This was lovely. The cats worked as fully realized animal characters, with well crafted personalities. Point of view stays mainly in Rhiow’s head- she’s a house cat and a wizard. As a cat lover myself, I found her meditations on human bonds versus independence interesting. Rhiow and her wizardly associates, both cats and people, worked well for me as personalities. (And as a fan of the Young Wizards books, I was delighted to see cameos from familiar humans.) I do love the way Diane Duane constructs wizardry as a stand against the entropy of the universe, a humanitarian undertaking. (Given the feline protagonists, I’m not sure about “humanitarian” as a word choice.)

The cat culture is clearly defined, with a religious belief system, greeting rituals, power struggles and manners. Diane Duane always crafts new cultures beautifully, honoring their complexities. And of course, the wizard culture, familiar to me from her other series, plays with, and sometimes against, cats and their social frameworks. There are plenty of funny bits- Urrah is fascinated by singing, and particularly has a penchant for opera, which the others tease him gently for (it’s a tomcat thing, to love singing in any form). One of the greeting rituals cats have is to breathe breaths with one another, and this always comes with commentary about “wow, you ate pastrami!” or “hot pickles? Really?” It tickled me.

I may put off reading the second book, as a treat for later, but I’ll look forward to it.
I’m very, very picky about fantasy, and this one worked beautifully.

To Visit The Queen
Diane Duane
(library book)

So I didn’t even last a week before I decided I really needed to read the second volume, and get more of Rhiow, Urrah and Arhu’s adventures. So I downloaded it from the library.
If I loved the first volume for being well-crafted fantasy set in New York, I found the second volume also hitting a sweet spot. This time, the cats’ wizardly responsibilities take them to Lon

Reviews of Books Assigned for Class

February 20, 2014

The Design of Everyday Things
Donald A. Norman
Basic Books, 2002

We were assigned the first three chapters for an upcoming class reading. I got so engrossed, I wound up reading the whole thing. I really like the way Morgan explains concepts of usability such as knowledge in the head versus knowledge in the world, affordances and constraints. Some terms he uses, like mental mapping and schemas were already familiar, applied to a design perspective. The emphasis is on understandability and usefulness, rather than simplicity. I enjoyed how often Norman scoffed at something sleek that “probably won a design award” but is difficult to understand or use correctly.
I flagged something as interesting, or underlined, on nearly every page.

Norman’s tone of writing has a kindness to it, and is forthright. Over and over, he returns to the idea that, if you find yourself frustrated with a site or an interface, or confused how to proceed that signals bad design, not your own fault or shortcoming. Given the number of fumbles, mistakes and frustrations I’ve encountered and then scolded myself for, reading this perspective is lovely and freeing. More people should read this book.
Later chapters struck me as a touch quaint, as we were assigned to read a book that has since been updated. The text we were reading relies on describing and discussing technology that predates smartphones. There’s a later edition, updated to include social and mobile technology. I think I would like to read it.

The Soul of a New Machine
Tracy Kidder
Back Bay Books, 1981

I was expecting and hoping to like this book, but I feel like it was fighting with itself between telling the story of the technology and telling a story about the people involved as characters. it’s so crowded to keep track of. While it was interesting, if a little opaque, to read about the development of microcomputers, and to realize how much I take for granted about the inner workings of the laptop where I’m presently typing these words… I wound up feeling grumpy, as the book dragged along, crowded with all the personalities at Data General. I also had the odd thought that it resembled a sports team biography, or a rock band biography, very much told in that story arc. Band of oddballs and misfits get together, with just a little backstory about each as he appears on the screen. The merry band has a project that sounds too crazy to work, and the arc of the story is them trying to realize their big dream. The pattern of early hopes and setbacks, and then the sudden climactic tension of, in this case, the approaching project launch and debugging deadline, made me think of the pacing of a band getting ready for its first big gig, or the underdog sports team trying to get to the championship.
Also, I got the sense, repeatedly, that Kidder found the workings of the technology almost as opaque as I did, and, for all the time he spent working with the staff of Data General, he observed as a journalist with a humanities background, and missed some opportunities to tell the story of the tech in better context.


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