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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

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

gord-downie-metallic-suit

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.

 

victoria-july-22-2016-lead-singer-gord-downie-on-stage-for12.jpeg

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:

IMG_0901.JPG

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.
http://www.cbc.ca/i/caffeine/syndicate/?mediaId=748010563966

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.

unnamed.jpg

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?

Audiobook Bedtime Stories

August 14, 2016

Audiobooks are a huge part of my reading life; I rely on them in my bedtime ritual. Tuck myself into bed, and cue up the story being read to me as I turn off my brain for the day.

Because audiobooks are part of lulling my brain to sleep, I am picky about what makes a good audiobook. I seek out something gentle that makes me happy. Not sweet enough to be cloying, but not suspenseful or demanding of attention or intensity. Because a harrowing tale keeping me in suspense would defeat the sleepy purpose. Revisiting an old, familiar favorite works nicely for these. To drift away from the story as sleep creeps in.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve listened to anything by James Herriot. The country vet visiting farms of a bygone Yorkshire puts me right out, to dream of lovely green fields. (I suppose a joke about counting sheep wouldn’t be amiss here.) The audiobooks by Christopher Timothy are particularly nice, with his own accent and reading the different voices of characters.

17731046-_uy200_In a similar vein, The Irish Country Doctor books by Patrick Taylor are delightful, especially as read by John Keating, doing all the voices and accents. Doctors Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly and Barry Laverty run a medical practice in the village of Ballybucklebo in Northern Ireland. Keating’s read of O’Reilly’s gruff voice, and all the cast of characters from the Cork-born housekeeper, Mrs. Kincaid, to the scheming of Donal Donnelly, to the bluster of Councillor Bishop has become how I define the characters.

Don’t ask me why someone as squeamish about medical matters loves these rural doctor stories so much. More about the small town life than needles and guts, is one factor. And also, the sort of half-listening, half-asleep mindset cushions me against any medically descriptive parts. Medicine, yes, but bucolic and sepia-toned.

Thanks to the nifty ability to download audiobooks from the library directly to my phone, (yay, Overdrive) I can borrow digital audiobooks and replenish my supply of stories. Wish the lending period were longer than three weeks, as I’m listening in half-hour increments before dreamland, so a story stretched out across 7+ hours can take over a month to finish. And then the book zaps itself off my phone at the due date. With the story unfinished! (Once I figured out how to renew on the OverDrive app, this was less of a calamity.)

So yes, yay libraries and digital access, but this isn’t about that.

I happened to find a paper copy (hooray for retronyms!) of  An Irish Country Girl, one of Patrick Taylor’s books in the library, before I could get it as an audiobook. So I checked it out, reasoning that reading it first would be a good way to enjoy the soporific uses of the narrative as an audiobook being read to me at a later date.

And I discovered something: I like Patrick Taylor’s books much, much better when John Keating is reading them to me. It’s the characters, and their voices, and their accents. It’s the ritual of tucking myself into bed to listen to the nice flow of village life and brogues. Yes, I’m going to fall asleep, lose the thread of the story, and have to backtrack in the chapter the next night. It doesn’t matter. I enjoy the way the story unfolds as it is told to me each night. the way turns of phrase or snatches of dialogue unwind, the next day in my inner monologue like a song stuck in my head. I don’t even mind falling asleep and having the voices play through my dreams. (Sepia toned medical tales make for vaguely comforting dreams, unlike the times I’ve fallen asleep listening to Welcome to Night Vale podcasts. Nightmare fodder! Whee!)

My audiobook life is not all about village doctors. There are podcasts that fit this same niche: The Bowery Boys and Stuff You Missed in History Class are good, though I’ve gone back to listen to various episodes to catch details I slept through. Wait, Wait Don’t Tell me is impossible, because I keep giggling myself into wakefulness.

cgdoy01I found a few gems written and read by Stephen Fry as well, thanks to OverDrive. I’m on the hold queue for Stephen Fry Does The Knowledge, which promises to be in a very nice sweet spot between the odd trivia of my favorite podcasts, as Fry riffs on all the things London cabbies know, and a sonorous British voice lulling me to sleep.

Various encounters with reading and listening to Neil Gaiman have made it so that whenever I read his prose, I hear his voice in my head, narrating. Which makes the reading experience that much nicer. Like Stephen Fry, John Keating and Christopher Timothy, I strongly suspect I would listen to Neil Gaiman reading the phone book or 19th century property law, and fall asleep smiling.

I’ve also been listening my way through The Once and Future King by T.H. White, in about twenty minute increments. It’s an excellent story, for what I need an audiobook to be: interesting enough to distract my brain from the day, but  slow enough to wind me down. In a perfect world, I would find a version read by Stephen Fry, or John Keating, but any resonant British voice will do.

I apparently equate soothing myself to sleep with voices from the British Isles. Go figure. Maybe, in this vein, I should try The Lord of the Rings again, or The Chronicles of Narnia. Or even The Silmarillion. Read by the right Brit, I might just manage to ingest the whole story. Even if I sleep through it a bit.

Elizabeth on Rating Books

August 10, 2016

Wrote this when I worked for AMACOM (did I really write this 2 years ago? Time flies when you’re living the library life?). Reposting to remind myself to try to be more systematic in my admittedly subjective reviews of books.

Still wish Goodreads would allow half stars, because some books are decidedly on the cusp.

AMACOM Books Blog

Like Rosemary, I’m a fan of GoodReads, and I find it useful to keep track of books I’d like to read, or know what friends and family would like to read at gift time. (I’m particularly fond of the mobile app that lets me add books to my to-read list by zapping the ISBN with my phone when I’m in the library.)

The main reason I use Goodreads is to keep track of books I’ve already read, and a little bit about what I thought of them. For the most part, I remember books that I’ve read and enjoyed or disliked. Every so often, one will slip through the cracks. I’m pretty sure I’ve read The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd twice, once before I started using Goodreads, and once in 2010. It was a good book, both times, so I guess it doesn’t really…

View original post 597 more words

I can’t turn off my brain

August 5, 2016

I watch movies. I watch TV. I start deconstructing power dynamics. Who’s calling the shots? What personality qualities are assigned to different characters? Who’s in conflict, who’s in romance? And how are gender and race playing into any of these questions? I start thinking about looking in the library database for discussions of character development and symbolism. Ghostbusters, crime drama, Lifetime movies. Science fiction. It just keeps happening.

Storytime: In college, I took quite a few English classes. I read novels, I took Old English as the required language course, I took a bunch of creative writing classes. But I was definitely not an English major. At a certain point, the idea of picking apart things I was reading made me feel like it was violating either the words themselves, or my enjoyment of them. It did not sound like fun.

Billy Collins describes my misgivings perfectly in Introduction to Poetry

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
As an anthropology major, I took a wonderful class called “Anthropology Goes to the Movies,” taught by Professor Colleen Cohen. That was a game changer! I read, and learned about things like the camera’s gaze, how editing shapes a story, and the realization that documentaries are stories with an agenda, not necessarily a depiction of “truth.” Whatever truth is. I dabbled in video editing a bit, on a Mac system, and did a group project transforming a doc about rhinos into a sappy tearjerker short called “The Rhino King.” That was possibly the most fun I’ve ever had doing anything for school. And then, I graduated, and went about my business, watching things, reading things.
A couple of years ago, I noticed that it’s gotten difficult for me to watch anything  without a critical, sometimes really jaundiced eye.
  • Sitting down to watch the X-Files reboot, starting to feel jarred by the thought “wow, Mulder’s a damsel in distress, and Scully’s doing both the emotional labor and the science to save the day… what does she see in him and his drama, exactly?” (This came as a major blow to my adolescent crush.)
  • Unpacking the frankly frightening power dynamics between Rey and Kylo Ren in Star Wars, feeling that Kylo’s intimidation tactics were so creepy that it jarred me from getting lost in the movie.
  • Feeling frustrated with Rick Castle, Tony DiNozzo, and the other antic man-children positioned as romantic partners on crime dramas… characters launching madcap messy schemes, saying “I have to win her back,” in ways that feel more like disrespect and force rather than humor or romance.
  • Reading Regency romance novels because I enjoy the pageantry and descriptions of ballgowns, only to shiver and throw them aside because I see the same nasty dominance convince/force conquering mentality playing out as Romantic.
I’m not sure whether it was grad school or the Internet that opened up this perspective. Most of what I analyzed in library school was how people seek information and store and organize it… not how media and storytelling portray cultural attitudes. Was I influenced by blogs discussing how our faves can be problematic, inviting conversation about the ways lionized celebrities and media tropes can show the flawed and stereotypical assumptions we carry as acculturated beings?

I think these are good, important conversations to have about media, in the service of wanting to do better in creating representation of  diverse reality, and to give media portrayals and stories that reach out to all kinds of people and experiences. Watching and reading media shapes how people expect things and behave. Questioning it and laying open its shortcomings seems sensible.

Plus, it’s kind of fun. I wound up majoring in anthropology with a bent towards cultural studies. This is right in my sweet spot. It blows my mind in the most wonderful way to see the quality of writing and analysis that’s coming out of both academia and the blog/Tumblr sphere, asking critical questions, unpacking media tropes. Sometimes, it’s amazing and strange to believe that lines of thought that are so much fun to traverse can carry the weight of academia behind them. I feel like I’m getting away with something awesomely rambunctious, reading and taking part in the conversation. And I also respect the legitimate, insightful quality of the discussion. For example, my cousin Berna is hotshot documentarian and media studies scholar at Johns Hopkins, Bernadette Wegenstein. Married to cousin Billy, known to some as Professor William Egginton, also a hotshot academic and philosopher. (Seriously, the brainpower in that household is awe-inspiring.)

At some point, it might be worth thinking about for me to find a second Masters degree program, especially as I’ve grown more fond of being an academic librarian. Might be worth thinking about media studies. Note to self: less time binge-watching and snarking media on Tumblr, more time poking around odd corners of academic databases to see what scholars are saying about Ghostbusters and the X-Files and fanfiction.

Hodgepodge 7/29/16

July 29, 2016

I’d been calling these link roundups Odds and Ends. Have decided I like Hodgepodge better. Fun to type, fun to say. Here, have a hodgepodge.

International libraries give me wanderlust

Libraries in the Czech Republic

My parents just got back from a cruise around the Baltic Sea. Of course, they paid special attention to visiting libraries, bringing  back photos and tales for their librarian daughter.

The National Library of Finland, pictured below.

image of the interior of the National Library of Finland

National Library of Finland, by Dad

More from Dad’s blog:

In Oslo, they’re working on  a new version of the current Deichman Library. “Hailed by many as a deichmanske-bibliotek-01.jpglibrary of the future’, New Deichman will be much more than just a library. While seeking to be Norway’s most important arena for literature, the project also looks to become a center of knowledge for the capital’s citizens as well as a host of cultural experiences that are accessible to everyone.” It’s going to look like a spaceship that landed in the harbor. It’s supposed to open sometime this year.

And in Copenhagen, there’s the spectacular “Black Diamond” library that opened in 1999.It’s more than a library — there’s a 600-seat auditorium, the Queen’s Hall, used for concerts—mainly chamber music240px-SHL_-_Black_Diamond.jpg and jazz—literary events, theatrical performances and conferences. There are also exhibition spaces, a bookshop, a restaurant, a café and a roof terrace. Two museums are based in the Black Diamond, the National Museum of Photography and a small museum dedicated to cartoon art

Finally, in Stockholm, everyone got worked up six years ago about their new library. They announced an architectural competition that drew 1,170 entries, and a German architect Heike Hanada was declared the winner with her proposal Delphinium. Although Hanada was instructed to produce preliminary plans for the project’s realisation, the extension was put on hold in late 2009. Maybe they’ll restart it in time for our grand library-and-opera house tour in a couple years.

I have talented friends

Chasing Waldorf’s history as it becomes history itself A New York Times profile of Deidre Dinnigan, the archivist for the Waldorf Astoria, and a classmate of mine from Pratt, doing a great job working with a fascinating collection. How cool is this? Go Deidre!

Fencing photos taken by Russ Voss  at Stab in the Dark, an outdoor fencing event in the Hudson Valley. I love all of these, and it was hard to pick a favorite. Check this one out, though.

photo of two fencers against a stormy sky

Photo by Russ Voss

Various nifty things

Friday Reads in the Digital Library from JSTOR Weekly  themed book roundup, annotated with interesting articles. Great way to talk about, and publicize books lists. (Good outreach idea for an academic library, too.) I have a huge crush on JSTORDaily, the blog JSTOR runs to highlight the articles and oddities in its collection, and this just reinforces it. Love!

Savage Chickens delights me.

chickenacrophobia

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