About Carol

Carol likes to read for fun. Her reading material tends to be fluffy, funny, and/or frivolous. If she were stranded on an island with only one author's books she would take Dave Barry. Lately she's doing that thing she said she'd never do: reading teen fiction! Authors like Libba Bray, Lauren Morrill, and Gail Carriger keep her coming back for more. She obsessively records what she reads and what she wants to read on GoodReads.

When History Splashes Off the Page

You may recall I gave myself a list of reading challenges for 2014. They are all self-imposed and they all just randomly fell out of my brain one day in a burst of madness inspiration. Whether this is the first you’re hearing of my reading resolutions or you just want to review, here is the list of my reading inspirations:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular (see below)
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Up until now I thought of this list as only a clever way for me to have some ready-made books to blog about. However, I really didn’t expect anything mind-blowing to result. Then I decided to tackle number five, the super-popular designation. And guys, I finished reading this book three weeks ago. Three weeks ago. I have been unable to pick up another book since. This book broke me. I am stuck in a rut, afraid to pick up another book because it’s really not fair to that book to have to follow behind one so good as this one.

The boys in the boatUnless you’ve been living under a rock, or just not in the Pacific Northwest, everyone has been buzzing about The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The library first bought the book last June and I don’t think we’ve ever been successful at keeping a single copy on the shelf. As of this writing there are still twenty-two outstanding holds across all formats. I was lucky enough to snag an eBook copy. Pro tip: if you need a popular book quickly, the holds queues for eBooks tend to be far shorter than physical print copies.

So there I was: sitting curled up on the couch, Saturday morning, fresh-brewed coffee in hand. This was back before that big summer heat wave hit Seattle. It was just me and the title screen on my Kindle. I had no idea what was about to happen, how truly involved in this story I would become. I ended up creating countless highlights in my eBook of passages I thought embodied a person, idea, or event. I didn’t count on how difficult it would be to retrieve said highlights later. So you’ll have to keep with me as I try to put into words how incredibly magnificent this book was, and still is.

Joe Rantz was born in Spokane in 1914. His childhood and early adulthood are detailed throughout the book, juxtaposed with great inventions of the time, and a healthy dose of local, federal, and world history. His father invented as a hobby, but it was never enough to pay the bills. When Joe was still quite young his mother died. His father, heartbroken and searching for work, moved all over the Northwest. Sometimes he took Joe; sometimes he left Joe behind; sometimes he shipped Joe out to a relative’s house. As a result, Joe had a severely unstable childhood but also became extremely self-reliant. Being left behind in a half-built house in the wilderness outside of Sequim, while your father packs up his new family and leaves for parts unknown will do that to you.

By the time he got to the University of Washington in 1933, Joe was always second-guessing his worth. Despite working hard, and during the Great Depression no less, to not only scrape together tuition money but also find a place to live, Joe never really saw his strengths. Joe was used to hard work, but he thought he would finally feel like he fit in with like-minded people in college. Instead his threadbare clothes and deep poverty made him feel like an outcast from the very start of his college career.

Eventually, Joe managed to work his way onto the UW crew team. Despite his aptitude, dedication, and stamina, he saw that his place on the team was not permanent and never guaranteed. Coaches swapped students around on different boats, trying to find the right combination of rowers. This boat-swapping, coupled with his childhood of abandonment put Joe constantly on edge, fearful that he would be let go from the team just when he was starting to feel at home. Knowing that staying on the crew team was his only chance to stay in college, and have a shot at a good future, Joe was constantly worried but always striving to be better.

Over his freshman and sophomore years, his boat had its ups and downs in competitions and teammate personality conflicts. But it wasn’t until his junior year that his teammates became as close as family. In 1932 UW’s west coast rowing rivals, UC “Cal” Berkeley, had won Olympic gold. Entering the 1935 rowing season, everyone at both UW and Cal knew that their coach would be pushing them to fight for the chance at the gold medal at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. And any team competing against Germany on their home turf during an oppressive time would, if they could win it…well, do I need to go on?

The Dust Bowl. Nazis. The Great Depression. Hitler’s rise to power. All of this is set against our group of farm boys, working hard on the waters of Lake Washington. This is a true underdog story, one made more inspirational because every word of it is true. Pay special attention to the quotes from George Yeoman Pocock at the start of each chapter. He handcrafted all the racing shells at UW during Joe’s tenure, and he was wise beyond his years. I would love to read more about him and his equally humble beginnings and incredible life.

I really did not think I would like The Boys in the Boat, but was curious how a book about rowing could become so popular. I told my dentist I was going to read this book. He, an avid fisherman and happiest, I suspect, when he’s on the open water, said that it was also on his list to read this summer. I feel like I did us both proud. Look at me, reading a book about sports! But it’s so much more than that. If you, too, decide to give it a chance, prepare to be swept away at forty-five strokes per minute. Now that I’ve written this review I hope it releases me from the spell cast by Daniel James Brown. I’m going to crack open a new book tonight and test my theory.

In case you’re wondering, and lest us always remember, the boys in the boat:
Left to right: Don Hume, Joe Rantz, George “Shorty” Hunt, Jim “Stub” McMillin, John “Johnny” White Jr., Gordon “Gordy” Adam, Chuck Day, Roger Morris. Kneeling: Bobby Moch

1936 UW Varsity Crew Team

A Blogger’s Life for Me

I’ve made it to the middle! We’re halfway through the year and I’m also halfway through my reading resolutions. Let’s review what I’ve gotten myself into:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future (see below)
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

The future: a scary, unknown, slightly intimidating place where I will definitely have more wrinkles but I will hopefully have more time to focus on hobbies. I enjoy writing for this blog, and I love that you take time out of your busy schedule to read it. We have some very talented writers on staff here, and we’re all lucky that blogging is just another part of that mysterious “other duties as assigned” line in our job descriptions. We try to make posts fresh and relevant to your interests with the goal of promoting the library through its programs, services, and materials.

That’s all a nice way of saying I like writing here, but I’d love to do more and on my own terms. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting my own blog, and maybe start laying the groundwork for either a steady hobby or, if all goes brilliantly, a second career.

BlogIncBlog Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Cho is the book that lit my creative fire. Joy, who has been a professional blogger since 2005, is a trusted voice in the blogosphere. Her book condenses down her best tips and tricks for developing your own writing voice and taking it online. I found guidelines for setting up both a content strategy and a marketing plan, both main ingredients in a successful blogger’s toolkit. Mixed in with these nuggets of wisdom are interviews with other professional bloggers. I find it fascinating how some people got their “big break” and what other things these bloggers do when they’re not online. Some run small businesses; others are full-time parents. But everyone shares a passion for blogging, one that I would love to channel into my very own blog.

But I didn’t stop there. I checked out a ton of books on blogging from the library, and found an excellent balance between how to plan good content and a ton of technical help (think layout and coding cool features). Books like ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett, Building a WordPress Blog People Want to Read by Scott McNulty, and Blogging for Bliss: Crafting Your Own Online Journal by Tara Frey build on the foundation Blog Inc. gave me. For those who don’t like to start any new venture without a Dummies reference, check out Blogging All-In-One for Dummies. I found information on everything from planning content, selecting a host, and using social media to share my posts.

After digesting all this information, including how to make money from blogging (can we say dream job?), I looked into other ways I could monetize my life. Everyone else is selling out, so why shouldn’t I? That’s where How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity by Patricia Carlin comes into play. I figure with three cats, all of whom are completely insane, there’s got to be an entertainment gold mine in there somewhere. This book is obviously a parody of, well, I guess the entire Internet. But I won’t let that slow me down. There are tons of sure-fire ways to turn your feline friend into the next Grumpy Cat. If nothing else I could always fall back on these ideas if my blog gets a little low on fresh content.

Gypsy

TonksTheDude

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on my recent reading and pinning activities, I’m on the verge of taking the blogging plunge. Maybe if I get started now and get a dedicated following, get myself used to a structure and schedule, and figure out how to maybe get paid for my hard work, I’ll have in place a second career. But I’m not totally delusional: I’m still buying lottery tickets.

I Challenge You to a Read-Off!

Logo

Summer reading: it’s not just for the kids! Yes, these days your library makes it easy for the whole family to have fun reading all summer long. While we have a great Summer Reading Program (SRP) planned for children and teens, you may be surprised to learn that adults can participate as well. I promise that getting started is quick and painless:

Step 1: Sign up for the reading challenge online starting June 1st.
Step 2: Track your reading progress.
Step 3: Pick up a prize after the 1st, 3rd, and 5th books have been read and logged.

When you complete the final challenge you’ll be entered to win the grand prize, a Kindle Paperwhite! And don’t forget: your library card unlocks thousands of free Kindle downloadable books. All the details can be found on our website. Thanks to the Friends of the Library, who generously donated this year’s prizes.

So what else can you do? If you’d like to try your hand at blogging, write a book review and you may see it published right here on A Reading Life! Maybe my editor will give me the summer off if enough of you write some stellar book reviews. If you’ve seen my list of reading resolutions you can understand how I’d like to spend my summer: getting through some of my tougher reading selections.

If you’re more of a hands-on person, you’ll be interested to learn that we’ll also have some fantastic events that tie in with our theme of Literary Elements. The one I’m most looking forward to is learning home brewing from Don Roberts. Yes, the owner of Everett’s Homebrew Heaven will be at the Main Library June 17th at 7pm, ready and willing to teach us how to create our own craft brews at home. Finally, I can join the ranks of my idol Wil Wheaton–at least in terms of home brewing.

literary not literal twins

Staff have gotten on board as well, a few of us going so far as to purchase Literary Elements T-shirts to promote this awesome reading opportunity. Be sure to stop by and tell us how it’s going. After all, I’ve challenged you, a worthy opponent to a read-off. You’ll definitely want to brag.

To Read or Not to Read [Shakespeare]

It’s Month Five of 2014 and I’m still clawing my way through my Reading Resolutions. That’s right—I haven’t quit yet! As a result, I’m pretty sure this is the longest I’ve ever followed through with resolutions I’ve made. Hooray! Anyway, this month I tackle reconciling my past. Sounds scintillating, right? Here’s a recap for those of you just joining us, or those of you who may not remember them all (I have to look them up constantly, and it’s my list after all):

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past (see below)
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

This will surprise no one who had to suffer through countless English classes with me in school, but I’ve never held a fondness for Shakespeare. It’s true, and this knowledge cuts through the heart of my English-major boss. However, as she is responsible for buying the Dewey 800s (Shakespeare’s home) I’ve discovered some of the more unique Shakespeare related titles she has ordered. Because of this, I’m learning to love Mr. William and think you will, too.

bricks

Who doesn’t love LEGO? I grew up playing more with LEGOs than I did Barbies. Luckily, the authors of the Brick Shakespeare series know how to hook the LEGO generation (but please don’t call them hookers). One book covers the comedies, and one covers the tragedies. I’ve always consider them all tragedies because I tragically could not get into anything The Bard composed. These books changed everything! Each scene is adorably illustrated with LEGO pieces and the dialogue is typed verbatim. So, sadly, you do still have to do a bit of translation. But in the end it’s totally worth it. Watch Shakespeare’s words written hundreds of years ago come to life with children’s toys! The next generation has a shot at loving and understanding Shakespeare, thanks to these brilliant books.

reducedTouted by the New York Times as “intellectual vaudeville” The Reduced Shakespeare Company performed the longest-running comedy in London with “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).” RSC’s two managing partners, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, then wrote a book on the topic. Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Guide for the Attention-Impared [Abridged] is told in an engaging style sure to grab anyone’s attention. Not only are each of The Bard’s works broken down and summarized in plain English, there’s also a healthy dose of humor sprinkled on top. And, to make this truly educational and thought-provoking, the authors have included essay questions at the end of each piece. Consider the following essay questions:

Was one of your siblings considered the family’s “problem child?” Did they get this label simply because they were not as funny as they should have been? (Triolus and Cressida)

In this play a baby is abandoned on the shores of Bohemia, a country with no coastline. Make up some smart-ass essay question about the “genius” of Shakespeare’s knowledge of geography and then answer it. (The Winter’s Tale)

There are also an assortment of pop quizzes scattered throughout to keep you on your (mental) toes:

Pop Quiz, Hotshot: Which famous sexual come-on originated in “Venus and Adonis?”
A. “Let’s get it on.”
B. “I’ll smother thee with kisses.”
C. “I’m your Venus, I’m your fire / What’s your desire?”
D. “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.”
(Answer: B)

insultedShakespeareThese books are all about making stuff that was written many hundreds of years ago relevant to today’s idiot children like me. If I still haven’t hooked you, this next title will do the trick. Shakespeare Insult Generator, compiled and introduced by Barry Kraft, has been all over the interwebs this publishing season. In fact, I’ve kind of been hoping to see it in a future Quarterly shipment from Book Riot. But I digress. I consider this book to not only be required reading for everyone struggling with Shakespeare, but I’d like to see it have a permanent home on every English major’s desk (do you hear that, boss lady?). This ingenious spiral-bound book dares you to “put dullards and miscreants in their place.” You can mix and match three horizontal pages at a time to create one of over 150,000 combinations of Shakespearian insults. Flip each word over and you’ll get the definition so you can be duly informed of just what you’re calling someone.

So don’t be a hater. Join me in welcoming The Bard into your life. With the right tools at your side, you can prepare to become a Shakespearian scholar at your next dinner party. It’s like I always say: wow them with whimsy.

Lives Change @ Your Library

Okay, guys. Buckle up! This is going to be a wordy post, but I promise it will be an extremely rewarding read. Last week was National Library Week. Libraries across the country celebrated in various ways, but we all shared the same theme: Lives Change @ Your Library. Here at EPL we talked to you. My colleagues and I, armed with cookies and a laptop, asked you to share your library stories. We asked you to tell us what you love about the library and how it may have impacted your life. I have to say that the experience was both entertaining and very humbling. The shorter stories I tweeted; the longer ones I will share with you here. Know that every single one of you warmed my heart and made me thankful that I’m able to work with people like you.

“I’ve hung out at libraries all my life. I’ve been a big reader, a big fan of the library my whole life. I’m an artist now and use the library to do research for my sketches. I use the copy machines and take advantage of the large tables to spread out my stuff and sketch. It’s all right here.”
–Shawn, Main Library

“I grew up in an at-risk neighborhood where no one read books and some never graduated from high school. However, because of the public library one block from my elementary school, I dreamed of a better future. I graduated from high school and college, and worked as a secretary for insurance and bank company executives.”
–April, Evergreen Branch Library

“I used to come here when I was a kid and sit in the children’s area. I’d read while sitting on the giant stuffed gorilla! Remember that old globe that used to spin? I literally used to check out 30 books at a time and read them all and bring them back week after week. I was a really advanced reader. Now I can’t do anything new without reading a book first. Books are kind of my life.”
–Jessica, Main Library

“This library is a great community resource. And now that I’m unemployed, the library is my main resource for everything.”
–Anonymous, Main Library

“I love how the Everett Public Library is sending the mobile library out to our apartment building. A lot of people really need this service! If we don’t have it we find it very difficult to get our reading material. So keep it coming!”
–Nancy, Outreach Services

“Scott is the coolest reference librarian I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Cam is great, too! Marge is a jewel. And David in the Northwest Room runs the best historical room on the planet!”
–George, Main Library

“I started going to this library in 1993 when we moved here. I was eight years old. I won the mayor’s reading award several times. My mom and I are still patrons, but now I bring my own kids. They do the summer reading program, too. It’s definitely a wonderful place to be. We also love all the changes.”
–Anonymous, Evergreen Branch Library

“When I was a little girl, my mother used to take me to the Seattle Public Library regularly. then she became ill with tuberculosis and had to go to a sanitarium, leaving my brother and I to live in an orphanage. I cried and cried and wouldn’t eat, I was so sad. That evening, one of the orphanage staff said that they were having story hour and maybe I would like to come. I went with her, still sniffling, to the story room, and there was my librarian from the Seattle Public Library! I knew then that I was going to be okay.”
–Silver, Outreach Services patron

library1

“Ever since we moved to Everett eleven years ago, the Everett Library has been our favorite place in town. Other favorites have come and gone with the ages of our children, but the library has always had something for everyone; from storytimes, to free concerts, to all the history books I’ve wanted for homeschooling, to summer novels, how-to books, friendly children’s librarians–who became household names–to genealogical research tools and theology. The library has enriched our lives in so many ways. We can’t wait to see what it holds for us next!”
–Anonymous, Main Library

“Libraries are the first thing I look for when I move to a new town. A child that has nothing else in their life can go anywhere in the world, thanks to the library. It changes lives. This library has all the best books that I want. I’ll look up current bestsellers and they’re already in the catalog, waiting for my hold. You have a marvelous library! You do such a good job ordering everything that people want. Whenever my friends and I are sitting around talking about the best reasons to live in Everett, the library is always number one. I like to fall asleep in my bed with a library book on my chest. I. Love. The. Library!”
–Sharon, Main Library

“The Outreach program serves a lot of people that could not use the library if it was not offered. There are two ladies working for Outreach that are God-sends. Both of them work hard to provide services to people that need this service.”
–Charlie, Outreach Services

“I like religious books and read a lot about the Amish people. These books help me get a new meaning in life as I walk with Christ.”
–Nellie, Evergreen Branch Library

“I’ve been coming here since 1997. You’re doing a great job here. The library keeps me sane. Genuinely, I’m reminded of my hometown library in England, which I love. You have a great selection of English DVDs here. I honestly think that a lot of Everett residents don’t realize how fortunate they are with the services the library has.”
–Roy, Main Library

“The library gave me the opportunity to read a great deal more when I was unable to get around, due to the lack of transportation. It’s close to home, within walking distance.”
–Anonymous, Evergreen Branch Library

“You are a wonderful place! Without you, I would not have had any friends here. The library is a place for me to go to work on my patent, and a place to find good books to read. When I was homeless you helped me so very much. I never knew you had it in you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
–Mike, Main Library

“I love books! Books externalize who I am, my very identity. I can have esoteric notions in my head about what I believe, the way I think about things. Then there’s that magic moment when I’m reading a book and the author frames it just right, and I’m like, bam! There it is! That’s why I love reading. Libraries are a vital portion of that because I can come in and find a book and take on it, be two pages in and think it’s so amazing. That’s why I love libraries and that’s what libraries mean to me.”
–Shane, Main Library

“I can lose money going to community college, or I can go to the library. If classes get too tough, I drop out, and that tuition money is lost to me. The Everett Public Library is free and lets me learn at my own pace. I see I can’t get through college, so I’m not going to continue to sign up for classes and lose that tuition money. On my library card it states, ‘To inform.’ The library definitely informs me. I save thousands of dollars.”
–Anonymous, Main Library

“Well, if I didn’t have the library, I would be totally bored! Since I haven’t had a TV for twenty years, that’s about all I do is read. Now that I’m retired from my job I come here more often. I can get the bestsellers, biographies, work on the computers, and read the latest magazines. The library is a good place to go on a rainy day. It’s just great! I love the library! Thanks to everyone who runs it.”
–Anonymous, Evergreen Branch Library

“I lived here when I was doing my schooling. Back around 2002 at City University, they told us to use the Sno-Isle libraries. I said the Everett Public Library has everything you need! They said no, use the Sno-Isle facilities or go to Renton and use CU’s. I stayed here! It had everything I needed, including those books that tell you who is running which businesses. I perused the periodicals, especially Harvard Business Review. EPL definitely had the right kind of resources for students like me doing research on businesses. You don’t have to travel to a different library system or wait for materials to be delivered. At EPL I can walk in and get what I need.”
–Brian, Main Library

library2

“I got caught reading books under my desk in the third grade when I was supposed to be paying attention in class! My teacher sent a note home with me to my dad that said to take me to the public library so I could read to my heart’s content. And that’s what he did! I have always loved books and loved to read. I can’t get enough reading. I worked in the high school library when I was growing up. When I eventually had kids of my own it was difficult to find the time to read, so now I’m always sneaking away a little bit of time to read. I love coming here. It’s a quiet place away from my regular life. I come here not just for entertainment but also for learning.”
–Rose, Main Library

“I’ve been coming to the library for over thirty years! And now it’s so fun to bring my children here and relive all the nostalgia. I love seeing their imaginations run wild as they make new library memories of their own!”
–Charlotte, Main Library

“The library has given me a chance to learn about and experiment with new technology! I have enjoyed trying blogging, photo editing, and web design! And it’s the best place to do my personal research using the library databases for medical information, genealogy, and consumer buying guides. It’s also great to have free eBooks, audiobooks, and digital magazines! The library enriches my life!”
–Esta, Evergreen Branch Library

“I have been going to the library since I was really little and I always used to do the summer reading program. The library has challenged me to read more books and expand my mind about what to look for. The library is always an adventure. I am friends with all the librarians and they have changed me by being there for me in a way I can’t explain. Thank you, Everett Public Library, for being the best library ever.”
–Marisa, Main Library

“As a new father, I discovered that the library had playtimes on Mondays and Wednesdays. During that time, I had to watch my son. So it gave me something to do with him. As a young and naive father not knowing what to do, I saw that the library provided programs like STEM. It gives my son an opportunity to experience things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to expose him to, especially the social atmosphere. He’s learning social dynamics and how to interact with others his age. The library helps me to feel like a productive father in his development. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know what to do for him. Since I’m a homeless guy, it gives me somewhere to be as well. For the homeless community, this is a staple where other services for the homeless have been shut down. Especially on wet, rainy days, the library provides shelter and entertainment. The library has also provided me with crucial internet access that I use to search for services. It gives me a lot of encouragement and faith in the community that this isn’t a solitary endeavor in life. It’s a community effort that improves each other’s lives.”
–Anonymous, Main Library

“Before I started using the Outreach program, I didn’t have access to the library at all. Mobility and transportation problems limited where I could go. Now I can get books I’m interested in on a schedule I can manage. I am so pleased with the Outreach ladies, too. They are courteous and knowledgeable and a pleasure to work with. Without this program I would be quite bored and isolated.”
–Orion, Outreach Services Patron

“We moved to Everett when I was five years old. We rarely had money to buy books and, let’s face it, my public school education was less than stellar. Over the years, I’ve spent thousands of hours in this library, and have checked out and read hundreds of books, for one reason and one reason only–it was free. Now I’m pursuing my Master’s in English, and I owe everything, I believe, to having early access, free-of-charge, to as many books as I could get my hands on. How has Everett Public Library changed my life? The Everett Public Library has made my life what it is today. Thank you, EPL, and support your local library!”
–CL, Main Library

“EPL at both its branches, have been places that I know I can always go to, to obtain a myriad of materials that will either educate or entertain or, most likely, distract me from my life, which happens to be a good thing. I always know that the staff will go above and beyond what they need to do in order to help me in any way possible find what I need. Every time I come to the Main Library for what should be only fifteen minutes, I end up spending two hours here, thoroughly enjoying myself. A big thank you to all the staff here.”
–Denise, Main Library

Working behind the library scenes as a cataloger, I don’t often get to see my impact. This changed everything. Having a reminder of why I do the work that I do was a big boost to my morale and overall work satisfaction. I want to say a big thank you to everyone who made this project possible. To the staff at both library branches and our Outreach crew, and especially each of you who shared these wonderful parts of your lives with me: Thank you.

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Is Poetry Literature?

Is poetry literature? Should one consider written verse, poems or prose, to be classified as literature? For someone not really big into labels, I am going to give the tie to the runner in this case so that I can cross off yet another of my self-imposed reading resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature (see below)
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

So, why poetry? Poems are, in a word, transcendent. Badly written verse can make even the most pleasant person go a little mad. But well-written poems can take the reader on a journey into a corner of their soul they haven’t yet seen before.

Pretty crazy, right? Well, not really. Take my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. What makes her my favorite is partly due to the fact that my mom gave me a book of Dickinson verse when I was a teenager. Once I actually started reading Dickinson, however, I did feel a bit transformed. As Thomas Wentworth Higginson once said,

In many cases these verses will seem to the reader like poetry torn up by the roots…flashes of wholly original and profound insight into nature and life.

Who doesn’t crave a little insight? That’s the thing about Dickinson: it’s like she knew me, what was going on inside of me, things I didn’t even know how to express myself. As a teenager, this was my favorite poem:

My friend must be a bird,
Because it flies!
Mortal my friend must be,
Because it dies!
Barbs has it, like a bee.
Ah, curious friend,
Thou puzzlest me!

What teenager has a favorite poem? Apparently, this girl! My love for poetry waned over the years, but I always come back to Dickinson. In January the library acquired The Gorgeous Nothings. The book contains actual scans of Dickinson’s handwriting on the backs of envelopes. This is truly an exciting look at this poet’s process:

Envelope

AnotherEnvelope

These scans really don’t do the book justice. Check it out and behold the genius that was Emily Dickinson’s reclusive scribblings. Hold in your hand a tome of untold wonders. Celebrate National Poetry Month.

Carol

Getting Graphic

We’re heading steadily through March, and I have to say I’m a wee bit proud of myself for continuing to work through my only New Years resolution this year. If you’re a regular reader, you may recall my self-imposed reading challenge which was designed to stretch my mind and read outside of my comfort zone.

Here’s a quick rundown of my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel (see below)
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

You’ll kindly overlook the fact that I’m skipping around on my list. Sure, it would have been more organized to tackle these in list order, but it turns out I can’t quite ignore that little voice inside my head that still wants to rebel against prescribed reading–even if I am the person who came up with the guidelines! The only way to drown out the voices is to read what I’m in the mood to read. And this month I decided to get graphic.

I’ve always gotten a bit lost trying to read graphic novels. My brain can’t stop looking around at all the images, and comparing and contrasting what I see with what my brain is trying to imagine on its own. Rogue brain. Be silent!

PrestoEnough of my neuroses. Let’s talk about Bandette. Presto! is the first book in the Bandette series by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. Bandette is a teenage thief who calls Paris home. I like to refer to her as a modern-day Nancy Drew meets Robin Hood meets Sherlock Holmes. She always dons her costume, complete with cape and mask, before venturing out to clean up the streets, thwarting the criminal underworld as well as the local police inspector, Belgique. She has a weakness for first editions–her personal library is split between the books she’s purchased with her own money and books she has “liberated,” also known as stolen. And her skills as a thief are only matched by her quick wit and unique sense of humor. Bandette may not take the world so seriously, but is that due to her age or her occupation? Take this line, for example. She’s in the thick of battle and still manages to quip:

Hush, Matadori! The air is already thick with bullets. Do not overcrowd it with drama as well.

Presto! combines the first five issues of the Monkeybrain comic book series Bandette. And while I hadn’t read them until I happened upon this tome in our Young Adult graphic novel collection, I am hesitant to read any more until the next bound volume is published. For one thing, it will build anticipation. It will also allow me to work on other reading challenges in my list. And honestly, reading them bound together with all the little extras in the back (including author interviews and a behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing, drawing, and coloring the comic) is in and of itself a beautiful thing I’d miss out on.

When I started reading Presto!, which can be easily consumed in an afternoon, I knew I would need to take notes on my reading experience for the blog. Here are my reactions, perceptions, and ideas that I recorded during my introduction to Bandette. You can click on each image to make it larger and easier to read.

Notes1 Notes2

Since it’s past my deadline (Bandette wouldn’t follow any but her own deadlines!) I’ll let my handwritten notes above speak for me. You can also take my husband’s word for it, as he devoured Presto! the night I brought it home to read and nagged me about it until I had time to read it myself. I even purchased my own copy, knowing I will re-read it in the future.

Overall I’ve come out of this third reading challenge with a better appreciation for the illustrated novel and a definite plan for Halloween. I’ve also got what I would call a new literary best friend. Bandette, I can’t wait until we meet again in volume two.

I Love Bernie (And So Will You)

This year I decided to give my reading life a little bit of direction and structure. Though I tend to prance through life with copious amounts of chaos, I decided that I could and would cram in some reading goals for 2014. Why not stretch my mind a little? Though I’ll still be reading fun, fluffy, and frivolous books (currently reading a YA spy thriller) I thought if I mapped out my year I could easily shift in some unexpected titles and see how well I do following directions, even if they are from myself. I detested assigned reading in school but I’m hoping that taking orders from myself will go over better.

Yeah, I’m a hot mess.

Let me recap for you what I’m calling my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book (see below)
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

wheredyougobernadetteThis month I decided to tackle the Everett Reads! book. As Kate mentioned already, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is what we’re hoping all of Everett will try this month. On February 23rd at 7pm Maria will be at the Performing Arts Center downtown. We’re told she’s a very engaging and entertaining speaker, and those who wish to meet her/have a book signed afterwards will have that opportunity. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?!

We’ve been doing this “one book for the whole community to read” type of program for several years now. The first year we read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I love mysteries, so that year I read the book, discussed it with colleagues, and went to the programs offered. In the intervening years I didn’t really get excited about any of the other titles. That’s not to say they were bad books. They just didn’t capture my interest.

This year everything changed. This year we picked a book that was funny.

I’m not great at summarizing stories without giving anything away. What you should know is that, although everyone told me this book is all about teenager Bee searching for her mother Bernadette who just disappeared, it’s so much more than that. I checked out the eBook edition and Bernadette didn’t disappear until about 2/3 of the way through the book. While many books heavy on exposition and background can be tedious and overbearing, it’s just not the case here. The writing is laugh-out-loud hilarious, the best lines coming straight from Bernadette herself:

Greetings from sunny Seattle, where women are “gals,” people are “folks,” a little bit is a “skosh,” if you’re tired you’re “logy,” if something is slightly off it’s “hinky,” you can’t sit Indian-style but you can sit “crisscross applesauce,” when the sun comes out it’s never called “sun” but always “sunshine,” boyfriends and girlfriends are “partners,” nobody swears but someone occasionally might “drop the f-bomb,” you’re allowed to cough but only into your elbow, and any request, reasonable or unreasonable, is met with “no worries.”

Have I mentioned how much I hate it here?

The whole story is told through varying forms of communication: school memos, emails, faxes, magazine articles, and even a captain’s report from a cruise ship. This structure really held my interest and also provided deep insight into each characters’ motivations, feelings, and personalities. That’s a really tricky thing to do well in a book but Maria Semple pulls it off.

Unfortunately this format can be tricky to follow when listening to the audiobook, as one of my colleagues discovered. So I would suggest if you’re getting lost or losing interest in the audio, grab a hard copy of the book and try that instead. Give Bernie a chance to win your heart like she did mine.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (yes, it bothers me that the official title does not include a question mark) has something for everyone. Bernadette’s husband, Elgie, is an avid cyclist, so this will appeal to my friends who bike to work. Elgie also works at Microsoft, and the book goes into great detail about life on a business campus. I read these parts out loud to my software engineer husband. There’s a lot of coverage of the school Bee attends and the moms Bernadette refers to as “gnats” since they’re annoying but nothing you’d really exert effort over (hello, all my parental friends who have experience in the trenches). Ever been on a cruise? Deal with motion sickness? You’ll be nodding your head (nothing that would trigger that horrible nausea feeling, though). If nothing else, this book is a great fit for anyone who has had a complicated relationship with their parents (who doesn’t?) and, of course, any humor fans.

bernie

I want to hear from you. Are you joining your neighbors in reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I’d love to see you all pack the house at the Performing Arts Center on Sunday, February 23rd. The program starts at 7pm but if you want the good seats you’ll want to get there a little early.

If Bee can search the ends of the earth for her mom, surely all of Everett can enjoy the same book.

Reading Resolutions

Back in the day I was a mess. I made resolutions each New Year’s Eve and promptly broke them the following morning. After several years of this self-destructive (and totally pointless) cycle I just stopped making them. I’m still a mess, but I stopped trying to annually catalog my flaws and failures.

This year is different.

This year I’m trying a different approach: reading resolutions. I’m going to read. I’m going to read a lot. Why not give myself some goals to broaden my literary horizons? So dear reader, I give to you my 2014 reading resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends (see below)
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Ask anyone who works in a public library and they will agree: everyone gives us book recommendations. All. The. Time. I’ve been working in public libraries for fifteen years. That’s a lot of book recommendations. After a few years of indiscriminate reading suggestions, you stop trying to tell well-meaning folks that you just don’t enjoy reading that type of book or that you already have a ‘to-be-read’ stack taller than yourself. You just sit back, nod, smile, and maybe write the title down for future perusal. There’s no way we can read them all.

Well I got lucky. I got to talking with a patron who frequents both the brick-and-mortar libraries and our Facebook page. After we bonded over our love of Walter the Farting Dog, she gave me a book suggestion that actually sounded like something I would enjoy. She described it as “funny, a Harriet the Spy for grownups.” Who wouldn’t respond to such a description?

TheSpellmanFilesThe Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz definitely lives up to the hype. Izzy Spellman’s family is odd. Her parents are both PIs and she and her siblings grew up learning the family business. As such, they are completely dysfunctional but love each other very much—even if they have some odd ways of showing it to each other: running a complete criminal and financial background check on your date, following you around town for a week straight, bugging your phone. You know, the little things. One day Izzy snaps and wants out of the family business. Her parents give her one final case: a missing person case that’s more than a decade old and so cold it’s freezing.

Told from Izzy’s point of view, the story jumps through time from the present-day to the distant and then not-so-distant past. The reader really learns what it is to be a tight-knit family with trust and privacy issues. A family whose members will truly fight for those they love and solve a lot of cases together to boot.

The patron who recommended this to me said she had some issues with the lax editing (tenses were mixed up at a few points, things like that) as well as an ending she disliked. Knowing that a bad ending can kill an otherwise enjoyable book for me, I rolled the dice and cracked the spine of this book anyway. And I have to say the patron’s assessment was right on the money, but I feel like I enjoyed the book enough to read the entire series. Who knows? Maybe this will be the start of crossing #12 off my reading resolutions list.

So what I have I learned from this? Through all the static that is the volume of book recommendations library staff receives, I was lucky enough to finally have a book recommendation that was right up my literary alley. I’ll be slightly more likely to actually try the book you suggest to me instead of adding it to that “someday” list from now on. And to the person who recommended this book to me: thank you for taking a chance on this jaded reader.

Use the comments section below and tell me what you’d like me to read. I’m feeling lucky.

Carol

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 3: Finishing Flourishes

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know we’re on a shared journey together. We’re on the quest for a simple, stress-free holiday party. You may not be a master chef but you’ve learned a lot of techniques that enable you to try more complicated recipes and maybe even have some fun as well. Now I give to you the final installment. Today I’ll go over the little extras that will take your holiday party from just a success to an absolutely stellar occasion.

1A Baker’s Field Guide to Christmas Cookies by Dede Wilson contains the number one absolute easiest recipe for cookies ever. You don’t need an oven, but you do need some high-quality alcohol. And let’s be honest: if you’re taking a few nips of the top shelf stuff while prepping cookies (as I assure you is required by law) you really have no business near an oven. Hey, I’m just looking out for you. Chocolate bourbon balls (page 40) combine the best food groups: booze, chocolate and sugar. There are variations where you can substitute other liquors and get an entirely different product. I wonder if anyone has shared this recipe with Hannah Hart of My Drunk Kitchen yet?

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Top 100 Step-By-Step Napkin Folds by Denise Vivaldo is full of simple ways to make any place setting outstanding. Toss aside those napkin rings: you won’t need them this year. I’ll be honest: outside of a cruise I went on last year, I’ve never actually eaten someplace where the napkin has a special fold—except maybe a fan in a wine glass. Who thinks of doing this, anyway? Only the most accomplished hosts and hostesses like you. Bird in flight (pages 26-27), buffet roll (pages 36-37), fir tree (pages 58-59), and shield (pages 90-91) are simple to make but are special enough to add that little bit of flair to your table. Your guests will be surprised and flattered that you took the time to pay such attention to detail…and that you used cloth napkins in the first place.

3The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook by Erin Coopey shows you how to make your own condiments, chips, stocks, and more. What we’re going to care about is in chapter six: dips. There’s nothing I look forward to more at a party than dip—except maybe the drinks. But we’ll get there, so slow it down, champ. If you’re feeling ambitious you can make the potato chips (page 140) or pita chips (page 152) but I confess I’ll just buy some pre-made. The French onion dip (page 146), herb dip (page 148),  and even the spinach dip (page 158) are simple to make and don’t require those seasoning packets you can buy at the store. I guarantee you everyone will be impressed when you tell them that you made these dips. From scratch. I mean, who does that? You do.

4Make Your Own Soda by Anton Nocito has dozens of syrup recipes you can use either with a home carbonating device or simple seltzer water to make your own sodas. And we’re not just talking cola. Guava (page 28), sarsaparilla (page 58), spiced maple (page 68) and hibiscus (page 70) are just a few flavors you can create to delight your unsuspecting guests. There are recipes for egg creams, cocktails, and even warm drinks, like the hot apple toddy (page 139). When I hear “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” I can practically taste a nice, warm hot toddy and smell the cinnamon.

5Cocktails for a Crowd by Kara Newman has over 40 recipes for a good time. Many of my guests enjoy being offered a nicely crafted drink but I do not enjoy spending my time bartending. That’s why this book is so incredible. Your group can enjoy one of several beverages that you can prepare in bulk (can you ever own too many pitchers?) and actually spend time socializing with your guests. Raspberry Bellinis (page 30) serves 16. French 75 punch (page 32) serves 8. Spiked and spiced apple cider (page 42) serves 8. Those all feature flavors that go well with a typical holiday feast. On the other hand, Suffering Bastard (page 77) serves 8 and is more of a summer drink. However, if you are suffering from ‘Too Much Family at the Holidays Syndrome’ you might get a secret thrill by serving these to your family. Quick, someone tell John Green!

Still looking for a little bit of extra polish? Why not whip together a fun holiday playlist? I’ve created a list of holiday tunes that combines the classics with some of today’s more modern spins. If you celebrate Christmas and you actually have your party on December 25, this will be your last chance until next year to hear those carols without someone clobbering you. I say go all-out and don’t turn the music off until bedtime.

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Take my advice. The right mix of fancy napkins, alcohol (or non-alcoholic fizzy beverages), music, and homemade dips will be sure to cement your place as future host or hostess of your family/friends’ annual gathering. Try to stay modest, though. You had help getting where you are today. You can send praise to my boss. It’s performance review time!

Carol