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Review Policy

March 15, 2012

I am particularly interested in books in 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 or dystopia, please!)

If I request a specific title, I will do my best to review it in a timely manner. I will review books outside of the above criteria at my discretion.

Thank you so much for keeping me Surrounded By Books

– Elizabeth

Hodgepodge 9/26/16

September 26, 2016

Now that Carla Hayden is fully confirmed and getting settled in as the new Librarian of Congress, it’s time and past time for me to post about her. Here’s the NYT coverage. Here’s an interview from TIME, riffing on her role in the digital age, as well as what she’s reading now. Her favorite children’s book is Bright April by Marguerite de Angeli.

Jacket image, Bright April by Marguerite deAngeli


Banned Books Week

black and white socks with banned book titlesIs it that time of year already? Glad it’s finally cooled down enough for me to wear my Banned Books socks, as I ponder the supreme irony of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury being a Banned Book.

Another good hit from TIME on this one, taking the long view of What the List of Most Banned Books Says About Our Society’s Fears

The banning of books in prisons is especially sinister (via The Guardian.)

Bots & Books

Algorithms Could Save Book Publishing But Ruin Novels (via WIRED.) Yikes, on so many levels.

Could reading romance novels make Artificial Intelligence more human? I admire this piece from JSTOR Daily for acknowledging the joke aspect before treating this question more thoughtfully.

Delightful Oddities

Math concepts explained with crochet (via MentalFloss) were lovely but made my brain hurt.

Over the weekend, I got to explore Photoville. I can’t even explain the array of different exhibits on display (some NSFW)in containers. So I’ll leave you with this:

Rescue Pit Bulls with flowers on their heads.

Sophie Gamand Photography

image of a pit bull dog wearing a flower garland

Brooklyn Book Festival

September 18, 2016

My day began unspeakably early, because the good people at the Brooklyn Public Library found my kryptonite: A yoga session in the Brooklyn library, interwoven with a live poetry reading, by live, actual poets. One of whom was Yusef Komunyakaa. 

I admit, when I first heard about the event, I was dubious of the start time: 8:30 AM sharp, including allowing time for the subway to misbehave in its wily weekend ways.

I am really, really glad I went.

For a number of reasons: It’s an important reminder to me to get out and do yoga classes more often. Left to my own devices, unrolling my yoga mat and following along with a video is straightforward enough, plenty convenient. But if I don’t change it up with a few classes now and again, “Ommm” can slide into “Meh.” Both in frequency and intensity

This morning, beginning the yoga practice with a group “Ommmm” was really cool. Because the vaulted ceilings and marble of the baroque looking library event room really caught the sound and gave it a lovely reverb that gave me goosebumps. The acoustics also had a particularly lovely effect on Mr. Komunyakaa’s poetry reading. He has a magnificent voice.

The way the yoga and poetry interacted was that the yoga instructor did most of the talking, cueing us through various poses and some repetitions of sequences. Poems came into play in poses that were less movement-intensive. During the flow of the cat/cow spine pose, Cynthia Cruz read a poem that had animal imagery, and a very children’s book feel to it. We heard a poem about trees from Yusuf Komunyakaaa during the balance of the tree pose. Just to name a couple of examples.

The combination really worked for me. I enjoyed the way the imagery and metaphor of the selected poems played off the names and the imagery of yoga poses. Giving my mind poetry to chew on helped me stay focused on the yoga, oddly enough, instead of what often happens at home, where I fling myself around on the mat, thinking mostly about due dates and deadlines and dinner and how much I just don’t wanna. It was a little hard to fully listen to each line and poem (because I was thinking about left and right foot, creaky muscles and not falling over) but dipping in and out made for a very nice experience of being between the two. I felt like I got fully and properly relaxed from yoga for the first time in ages.

After I staggered out into the sunshine, having purchased a volume of Mr. Komunyakaa’s poetry (lovely resonant voice sold separately, alas), I realized that the notion of making it to a 10 AM Daniel José Older reading and/or a nifty presentation about history education was definitely not going to happen because I was too zenfully discombobulated to navigate around the various arms of the festival without grabbing a bite (waffles with peanut butter and bacon). So I did that, poked around the various booths, and re-entered the event fray later at the periphery of a panel on culinary writing and the tail end of one about the future of libraries. Then I settled in at the Brooklyn Historical Society library, for a panel on writing and thinking about New York city, followed by more poetry from past and present poets laureate. (Easier to listen to poetry while not teetering and stretching.)

The last panel I attended for the day was a panel on Imaginary Worlds, and female-driven science fiction. I was intrigued because I’ve heard of N.K. Jemison but not read her work. The other two panelists, Robert Jackson Bennett and Sarah Beth Durst are completely unfamiliar, but after hearing excerpts and their talk about worldbuilding, I’m definitely curious to start reading.

Sasha and Jaye found me at that panel, so as my book fest day wound down, I had good company to catch up and browse the book stalls with, before heading off to meet up with other folks for church, grilled cheese and beer. Thanks to Sasha for putting illustrator Bryan Collier on my radar. I think I’d seen a couple of books, but hadn’t fully appreciated his lovely work until today.

A very good, bookish day, if long. I bought just a small handful of books (poetry, no surprise). I need to make both poetry and yoga more consistent and constant parts o fmy routine.

Even if I’d figured out a way to be strategic about which panels I attended, there would have been no way to do it all. Too many events were happening concurrently that I wished I could be in three or four places at once. I kept the program, and I kept a list of books that caught my attention… I foresee a lot of library holds, and possibly a fairly huge bookstore order in my near future.


Books I am not allowed to read during jury duty

September 15, 2016
tags: ,

I got called to report to Jury Duty on Monday. The notice was very firm that potential jurors should not bring any electronic devices whatsoever: no cell phones, laptops, PDAs, tablets would be allowed. My first thought was a panicked realization that I would have to leave my Kindle, with all its bountiful, lovely reading options at home! Including the two e-books I am currently in the middle of reading, and the e-books I just downloaded after being on hold at the library for weeks.

I consoled myself with the large stack of paper books I have in my TBR pile.

Here’s one that’s been at the top of the pile for ages:Cover image, The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders


The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders.

Hmmm. Possibly not.

How about this one I just bought at Burton’s Bookstore a couple weeks ago?

Cover image, A Burglar's Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

No? But it’s about architecture.

Okay, fine then.

How about this quirky book of facts?

cover image, 10 Ways to Recycle a Corpse by Karl Shaw

10 Ways to Recycle a Corpse: And 100 More Dreadfully Distasteful Lists by Karl Shaw

No? A pity! I do like a book of interesting lists and facts.

What other books would be bad ideas to read in the jury waiting room?


Dispatches from #LibraryLife Part 3

September 6, 2016

Call this installment: “Other duties, as (sometimes) assigned.”

I’m surprised at the number of times my job has been more tech support than traditional librarian skills like reference and cataloging. Almost daily, a student needs an assist saving a document to a shared drive, or wrangling with some aspect of PowerPoint or Word. Once in a while, I get a different tech problem to solve: the document’s being sent to PDF instead of printing, or the printer jams (inevitably for three nights in a row, during midterms. That week was awesome.)

Number of times I have “fixed” a student’s tech problem by walking over and standing next to the computer:5 and counting. Behold, the librarian superpower!

My personal best on tech fixes: a student asked for help opening a document from her home computer (which didn’t use Microsoft Word) on a library computer. Oof. I made a good show of tinkering with it in attempted usefulness, opening it with different programs. Everything from Notepad to Google Docs failed miserably, before I remembered a program I’d used on an old laptop, Open Office, a program that did a pretty decent job of mimicking the functions of Word. She came back to the library grinning. It worked! With an assist and a reminder from my tech-savvy friend Evans, I was also able to promise her a tutorial in using Microsoft Word online, for free. Problem solved! And now she smiles whenever she sees me.

A student struggling with English vocab words in criminal justice wanted to know what “forensics” meant, so I pressed my fingertips onto the desk to leave smudges, then said “Here are my fingerprints. If I murdered you, they’d come look at your body, see where the blood fell, and see that my fingerprints are there right by your body, and they’d be able to tell that I was here, so I might be a murder suspect. And if I shot you, they’d test my hands for gunshot residue.” Gruesome example, and he laughed, shocked. “Why would you murder me?” “So you’ll remember this example, of course!” Just like I remember Mr. Buckley explaining velocity with the example of shooting me out of a hypothetical cannon aimed at a wall, in high school physics. But I digress.

I love helping students with papers, whether researching (officially in my librarian-ly duties) or working through the thinking and writing. I love sitting with a student who is hashing out ideas for a paper (a lot of comparison essay assignments), and listening to them as they think out loud. Staying in a position of guidance, instead of diving in to contribute my own ideas is really, really hard, sometimes. I know that my job is to be a sounding board, and I’m honored to be that. I try to mirror, I try to stick to asking questions. But it’s so much fun to see the kids thinking, see the connections they’re making, and the way they talk through things they’ve read and thought about. It’s hard not to insert too many of my own ideas… Maybe I should spend some downtime reading textbooks just to learn along with them?

The main thing that got me through my own schooling, both undergrad and Masters programs, was working closely with people who served as sounding boards, and grounding influences. (Pretty sure I couldn’t have survived library science without M’s help, specifically.) Memories of school putting me through the emotional wringer are still pretty fresh. Trying to pay it forward working with students.

Public speaking advice: remember everyone  hates it. Speak slowly. Rehearse if you can. Remember everyone watching you in class is sympathetic, even your instructor. I have said this on average once a week since I started working in an academic library.

Requests for books and information have included, recently:

  • Sad books (fiction)
  • Memoirs of going through bad stuff (different student)
  • Funny movies with Melissa McCarthy
  • Nearest Notary Public
  • Books about corporate culture
  • Police officer training

One very cheerful student had a bunch of papers to do. Of course I asked her the topics: “Measles, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s,” she told me and beamed beatifically. “Okay then, have fun with your diseases!” I said. (I possibly could have phrased that better.)

Semesterly reminder to myself: Print out a lot of front pages of articles to give students random citation practice. Nobody gets citations right on the first try. Even librarians have to look up the fiddly bits.

There’s a bakery next to the library. Needless to say, I’ve become a familiar face there, because I can’t possibly resist their little samples and big grins. Trying to pay for eating my own weight in samples by offering to help students polish their resumes and get jobs there. (And tipping generously when I do succumb to the occasional pudding, or cupcake.) Working on a student’s resume, I discovered that her ambition is to be a pastry chef on a cruise ship. How neat! Maybe working sales at the local Temple of Frosted Temptation will be a good first step?

A student came in and told me “my girlfriend just broke up with me!” I sympathized with him, acknowledged that, yes, that sucks. He asked for advice: “To get over it? Write, or do art or do something expressive. People have turned heartbreak into fame.” He wanted to know: “How do I meet the next girl?”
“Learn to cook,” I said. “Definitely learn to cook.”

In all seriousness: I feel really lucky that a handful of students have built up enough trust in me to seek me out and tell me about things that are going on in their lives outside the library. They let me share successes, both academic and job-related, they come to the desk beaming proudly about a paper or test grade, or a successful interview for a new job. I love getting the chance to celebrate.

Recent successes have included: a job interview for a retail job, and a job offer (“Even though I forgot to send the thank you note after the interview!”) a job interview using the student’s criminal justice major (“I have to shave before the interview!? I’ll look like I’m twelve!”), a paper written in record time before class, with an assist from me on writers’ block (“I work best under pressure,” we’ll see how long that idea lasts.)

Some students have confided in me about troubles and sad times, too. A student whose father passed away before he could see her graduate told me stories about her dad, showed me a picture of him. A student got bad news from relatives in another country, and confided in me about feeling helpless with loved ones so far away.

There have been a few hugs, mixed in with the high fives, the fist bumps, and the wavy arms of triumph.

Never pictured myself as a college librarian.

But I really, really like these students.


Dispatches from #LibraryLife Part 1

Dispatches from #LibraryLife Part 2

Dispatches from #LibraryLife: Finals Edition



Books borrowed, then bought

August 31, 2016


I look at my crowded bookshelves and get resolute about absolutely not buying any more books. I tell myself, that if I want to read something new, I’ll borrow it from the library. Thus, using community resources, saving money, saving shelf space. Reading more experimentally and trying new authors! “Yes,” I tell myself, nodding sagely. “This is a very good plan!”

Sometimes, it backfires slightly.

Some of my favorite book purchases in recent memory came into my life as library books. And then I enjoyed reading them so much that I knew I needed them to be on my shelves. So I could read them over and over again, and share them with friends.

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Reading about Sierra and her friends and their adventures in a magic-infused Brooklyn was so wonderful that I read this book everywhere: home, subway, even under my desk at work. Couldn’t put it down! I basically wanted to dive in and re-read it the instant I finished it. And I really, really didn’t want to return it to the library. So I bought it, and I didn’t even wait for paperback.

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death and the rest of the Sidney Chambers series by James Runcie. Sidney Chambers didn’t start as a library obsession. Correspondence with a nice book publicist put my new favorite vicar/sleuth on my radar, and off I went to the library to start the series at the beginning… only to decide that I needed to own paper copies, because they’re much cozier for reading (and re-reading.) Thanks, Mom and Dad, for indulging me in my excellent birthday present!

Same deal with Just One Damned Thing After Another and the rest of the St. Mary’s time travel series by Jodi Taylor. The first book got on my radar on the Edelweiss e-galley review site. I devoured it, grabbed the next one from the library, and decided I wanted the rest of the series so urgently, I chucked my no-buying-books resolution.

I was pretty sure I was going to wind up buying Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World, by Ann Jamison, even before I checked the e-book out. Yep. And again, I chose paper over e-book for this, for ease of making it bristle with Post-it tabs and annotations as I read. Definitely need to think about delving into media studies.

The latest book that found its way from borrowing to bookshelf is, to I’m sure nobody’s vast surprise, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

cover image of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Comic Vol 1The Ms. Marvel comics and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl first entered my life from the library. Owning my own copies of each bound collection is pretty much inevitable, and possibly multiple copies, to make sure that all the young readers in my orbit know their awesomeness.

The only thing that’s stopped me from purchasing The View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman is the fact that I can’t decide whether I want it as a print book or an audiobook, and buying both at once feels a touch extravagant at the moment. I’ll keep renewing one or both while I decide.


The Tragically Hip

August 29, 2016


Watch the band through a bunch of dancers.
Quickly, follow the unknown, with something more familiar.
Quickly, something familiar!

I saw my first Tragically Hip concert in Central Park, July 1st (Canada Day) with my friends Gomez, and Lisa. We were in the park to see Great Big Sea, a Celtic folk band from Newfoundland we knew and loved.

Seething onto the stage comes this other band, all driving intensity of big rock chords. The lead singer, a bald man in a gray, three-piece suit stalking across the stage, sung lyrics spiraling in between improvised spoken word that blurred the barrier between spontaneous poetry and preaching the gospel of the exceedingly weird.  This professorial rock poet of a frontman had me hooked from the first line I wasn’t sure I understood. The Tragically Hip? Cool name. I bought all the CDs I could lay hands on. I learned lyrics that quietly, insistently got under my skin. Melodies I hummed.

Some words I knew so well I could call on them and call back to them, music at work, music at life. Lyrics as talismans, imagery, advice.

Bring on a brand new renaissance, cause I think I’m ready.
I was shaking all night long, but my hands are steady.

In the intervening years, I had friends who sort of liked some of the songs, other artists vying for most-played-spot on iTunes, other tunes stuck in my head, not that many opportunities to go see them live. May have missed out on one or two album releases, caught up when I remembered. I’m terrible at being a completist.

I saw the news in May. Gordon Downie was diagnosed with brain cancer. Glioblastoma. And they were going to go ahead with their tour, and with his doctor’s blessing. I cried when I heard. I raged. Because seriously, cancer attacking the very center and soul of dreaming up new lyrics and singing??? I thought about concert tickets and plane tickets. (Which sold out pretty much in the half hour I took to fully, completely talk myself out of doing something that insane.)

I watched my second Tragically Hip concert from my couch on August 20th. In good company.

In addition to basically the entirety of Canada, including the Prime Minister, rocking a band t-shirt, my parents sat on the couch and watched with me. They were perplexed by the half-understood lyrics, and a bit by the man himself: “Like a cross between Joe Cocker and David Bowie,” an actual quote from Dad. Not far wrong.

There are few among us who have what it takes to greet a terminal cancer diagnosis with  an arsenal of rock songs and very stylish, shiny suits.



From the first moments of the livestream, it was a hell of a concert film.

Dad was amazed by the filming, the timing, the production value. “CBC is doing this live??? It looks like it should have taken years to make!” The first sight of the band was them backstage, getting ready to go on. Gord took a moment with each of his bandmates, a word in the ear, a hug. A kiss full on the mouth. And they took the stage, and the camera panned out into row upon row of cheering, screaming fans, and they ripped right into “Fifty Mission Cap,” the song I’d been singing around the house all day.

Oh, hell yes.

Three hours.

And a more legible version:


I sang along. I cried. I cheered. I admired the sparkle and strut and sheer rock intensity Gordon Downie brought onto the stage, the band attacking chords as tight as ever.

Some favorites and moments.

The first time I cried: During “At the Hundredth Meridian,” for lyrical reasons.

If I die of vanity, promise me, promise me
If they bury me some place I don’t want to be
You’ll dig me up and transport me, unceremoniously
Away from the swollen city breeze, garbage bag trees
Whispers of disease and the acts of enormity
And lower me slowly and sadly and properly
Get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy

The second: “Fiddler’s Green,” for lyrics and melody reasons.

Was stunned and delighted to hear them tear into “Little Bones,” one of my very favorites right after, like a big, raucous reassurance that, no matter what, the Hip are still here, Gord’s still here, still rocking. “Nothing’s dead down here, just a little tired.” Caught my breath in a couple of songs I didn’t know as well (you’d have thought that a Hip song called “Poets,” would have been anthemic to me… but I hadn’t gotten that album until a month or so ago.

Mom liked the ballads better than the ferocious-screaming rock. Dad kept an eye on Twitter, enjoying the gestalt of the experience and the culture.

Here’s a glimpse: the only official video comes from the first encore

Held my breath, hearing Gord speak before the encore, jaw dropped as he talked about politics, about First Nations, and a callout to Justin Trudeau to be working with Canada’s indigenous people and moving the country forward.

Spent the entirety of the second encore in a state somewhere between grinning and crying at three songs that can, on their own, even without knowing about Gord’s diagnosis, make me sniffle. (“Nautical Disaster,” catching me off guard with an iPod on shuffle has been known to cause a fast eye-wipe on the subway.)

And “Grace, Too,” man. Watching him sing the song that, more than any other Hip song, has been in my ears and pushing me forward for years.

I come from downtown.
Born ready for you
Armed with skills and their frustrations
And grace, too.

Other versions of the song fade out on a sung/shouted “Here! Now!”
In the Kingston show, they became rage and defiance and grief. Battle cry, that I only half saw through tears.

Had I gone to the show, I would not have seen in this detail, I know.

The last song of the third (!!!) encore was “Ahead by a Century.” It fit.

First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life

Thank you, Gord Downie, for laying out your heart on the stage, in this and every show. Thank you for courage, for being ahead by a century, for being an unplucked gem, for your skills and their frustrations.

And grace, too.

Book Swap 2016

August 27, 2016

Once again, thank you to Emily and Chris for hosting their annual Book Swap, a marvelous gathering of friends, books, snacks, books, and general merriment. And books!

Mid-summer, the invite goes out, I mark my calendar and start looking over my bookshelves with a jaundiced eye. What can go? What will my friends like?

This morning found me playing book-Tetris, trying to find a way to jam books into a wheeling bag, and the spillover into my sturdiest backpack, to make the journey uptown.

As always, Emily and Chris had given their living room over to snacks and space for people to hang out, catch up and chat… and the bedroom became the book scavenging zone, the bed arrayed with books spine-up, as well as piled on tables and windowsills elsewhere in the room.


This is just a glimpse, above.

This is  a group of friends I mostly only see en masse at the Book Swap, so it was also time to catch up, continue lapsed conversations (bookish and otherwise.) Because the Book Swap has been a yearly event for so long, some books are as much familiar faces as the people who brought them. “Oh hey, this one! I brought this two years ago!” was often heard.

Mindful of my own gigantic hoard of unread books at home (and multiple library cards), I tried, I really tried to be discerning. I was also looking out for books the students I work with might enjoy, so I grabbed a handful of classics and medical memoirs and such.

But I couldn’t quite say no to the ginormous Wodehouse collection, or to any of these lovely delights. 

A wonderful book swap day.

What to read tonight, what to read?