30 Minutes Every Day…

Document (1)Summer is one of the busiest – and most exciting – times of year at our library. In Youth Services, we spend a lot of time focusing on our Summer Reading program. The basics are simple – we want youths to retain their reading skills while school is out, and research has found that reading for 30 minutes every day is the sweet spot. For this reason, we set a goal of reading for 24 hours by the end of the summer, and offer prizes for those who participate.

Have any questions about our reading program? We’ve got the answers!

Who can participate?

Our Youth Summer Reading Program is for anyone going into 12th grade or under. We also have a yearlong reading challenge for adults that you can learn about here.

What counts as “reading?”

We really like to emphasize that any form of reading counts including, but not limited to, reading on your own, stories read aloud by someone else, reading to younger siblings, listening to audiobooks, and, of course, reading graphic novels and comics. Because our program begins at birth, we also encourage parents to count time that infants and toddlers spend interacting with books, whether they are paging through them or just seeing what they taste like!

How does the program work?

We have reading logs for children and teens which can be picked up any time at our library. Readers can color in one star in the log for each half-hour of reading they do. Beginning July 1, participants can bring their logs back to the library and win prizes. Prizes are awarded at 12 hours and 24 hours, and will be available until August 31 (or until we run out).

At 12 hours, our readers get a color-changing pencil and their choice of a ticket to the Imagine Children’s Museum or a Seattle Storm basketball game in Everett. At 24 hours, they get a free book and entry in a grand-prize raffle. And if they finish by August 16, they are invited to our summer reading party which always includes exciting VIPs!

I like prizes! How do I sign up?

To sign up, just pick up a reading log at our Youth Services reference desk!

Every spring, our Youth Services Librarians visit Elementary and Middle Schools throughout Everett, promoting this program and getting students excited about the books they can read this summer. My visits center mostly on middle schools, where I see groups of sixth and seventh graders. These trips are exhilarating and exhausting, and are always one of the highlights of my year. Here are a few of the books I brought that students seemed especially eager to read:

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away by Ronald L. Smith

Simon has always been obsessed with aliens, but now it seems that they are obsessed with him. Simon mostly keeps to himself – his dad is in the air force, so his family moves a lot, and he has trouble fitting in and making friends. To ward off loneliness, he lets his imagination run wild researching UFO sightings, convinced that many of them are real and determined to find a pattern in these alien encounters.

Then one dark night on a family camping trip, Simon is attacked. Although it seems that he was simply clawed by an owl, Simon knows better. This was alien work. And the gouge in his stomach isn’t a scratch from an owl, it’s proof of an alien implant. When Simon tells his parents what happened, they are beyond skeptical and take him to a psychiatrist, who in turn prescribes him some medication. But none of this helps Simon with his problems. As Simon falls deeper and deeper into his obsession, it remains unclear whether these events are actually happening or if Simon is losing his sanity. If you want to know which is the case, you’ll have to read it!

Lizzy Legend by Matthew Ross Smith

For 13-year old Lizzy, basketball IS life. She practices every free moment, obsessing over every part of her game and analyzing the greats. Someday she hopes to be a legend herself, but right now her goal is to make the boys team at her school. She manages to make the team and become the star player, but she also has some things weighing her down. She lives with her dad, who has trouble keeping a job, and debt collectors are always breathing down their necks.

Then one day she gets a strange call. It sounds like the kind of robo-call that promises a free vacation or new iPhone but winds up a total scam, except this call tells Lizzie that she is pre-selected for one free wish. She says the first things that comes to mind, then hangs up the phone and forgets the call. But something strange has happened. Lizzie soon realizes that her wish has come true and she can make any shot she shoots. Pretty quickly a viral video leads to a tryout for a professional team, and before she knows it, Lizzie finds herself on the court playing for a pro team against full-grown men, with her power on the fritz. There’s a big game on the line and her new team is counting on her, so Lizzy needs to find a way to beat the best.

Beast Rider by María Elena Fontanot de Rhoads and Tony Johnston

The beast is a massive, fast moving network of trains that snake through Mexico toward its border with the United States. It is a treacherous ride, on a route with many people who could leave you dead – deceitful criminals, violent gangs, and corrupt police. Manuel is a 12-year-old living in the Oaxaca region of Mexico who dreams of joining his brother Toño in Los Angeles. But to do so, he will need to ride the beast.

This book follows his three-year journey, with its many hungry nights, threats, near deaths, and cruel beatings. Manuel also meets many kind and caring people who help him along the way. As he slowly gets closer to LA, Manuel begins to wonder if he will survive to make it there and if he will ever be able to forget the terrible things that have happened along the way. This book is, at times, a thrilling adventure and a heartbreaking story of sacrifice. But it is also an account of the perilous journey that many people endure to seek a better life and it also explores the reasons why people take such giant risks, and the stories that they bring with them.

Dreadnought by April Daniels

Danny lives in the Pacific Northwest in New Port City. In her world, superheroes and supervillains roam the skies, waging epic battles between good and evil. It might sound cool, but for ordinary people like Danny it is just plain dangerous. So when she witnesses a battle up close, she tries to stay out of the way until the great hero Dreadnought crashes down next to her, mortally wounded. As he dies in her arms, Danny is both terrified and annoyed – because even a dying superhero manages to misgender her. Danny presents as male, but is actually a trans woman.

As Dreadnought dies, something unbelievable happens. His powers transfer to Danny, not just giving her super strength and the ability to fly, but also transforming her body into what it is meant to be, that of a young woman. Needless to say, this is a lot for Danny. For one thing, she wasn’t ready to come out to the world and now her true identity is impossible to hide. She also must figure out how to fit in with the Legion of superheroes and hunt down the evil cyborg, Utopia, who killed Dreadnought and is a massive threat to humanity. So Danny joins with another hero and must learn to navigate life with her new body and her responsibilities as a superhero in time to stop the evil Utopia before it is too late.

XL by Scott Brown

Will is disastrously short. I don’t mean just a bit short for his age – at 16, he is just 4’11.”  This is beyond an embarrassing height. It makes him miserable and he has tried every crazy trick, miracle cream, and superstition to try to grow taller. Nothing has worked. Luckily, he has his best friends by his side, his stepbrother Drew and Monica, a book-obsessed surfer, who Will secretly loves.

Then two things happen that throw Will’s life into chaos. First, he catches Drew kissing Monica. Not only does this break Will’s heart, it also sends their little group into chaos. And then, Will starts growing. And growing. And growing. At first this is great- he can reach the pedals in his car, he grab things off top shelves. Then he gets taller – even better! He can look DOWN on his classmates. He can dunk. Then he gets taller. His body hurts, he is always hungry, and people start treating him like maybe there is something wrong with him. And to make things worse, it seems that the taller he gets, the harder it is to stay friends with Drew and Monica. Without them, Will doesn’t have anyone to hold him back as he grows into a bigger and bigger jerk. What’s a 7-foot tall ego monster to do?

Versailles of the Dead by Kumiko Suekane

Marie Antoinette is on her way from her native Austria to France, where she will marry the future king, securing peace between their countries. In real life Marie is beheaded during the French Revolution, but not in this book! Zombies devour her instead. The only survivor of the attack is Marie’s twin brother, Albert. Albert continues to Versailles, hoping to take refuge with the court. When he gets there, the King, who is trying to fight off the zombie invasion and can’t afford a war with Austria, decides that Albert will disguise himself as Marie and marry the Dauphin (prince). Now Albert has a lot on his plate. He must trick the people into believing he is Marie, including many who are suspicious of him, wondering how he alone managed to survive the zombie attack. He also has to survive a court filled with deadly intrigue and deadlier romance, and fight a few zombies along the way.  This is a terrifically fun and ghoulish new manga series!

In a Lonely Place

This is the city. Late 1940s Los Angeles. The war has been won and the economy is booming, but something sinister is prowling the foggy streets of the city at night. Women are being murdered and their lifeless bodies abandoned in seemingly random locations. The police are unable to find a pattern or a motive. Panic and fear permeates the streets.

If this sounds like a standard noir plot from the likes of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett you would be right. The difference here is that this tale is written by the little known, but much regarded Dorothy B. Hughes. In a Lonely Place, written in 1947 and reissued here in the NYRB Classics series, is as entertaining as it is subversive. Hughes works within the noir genre to expose its own dark underbelly: the genre’s disturbing attitude towards its female characters.

Most of the novel is from the perspective of the killer, Dix Steele (a noir name if there ever was one). Recently back from the war and living off a stipend from a rich uncle, he wanders the city streets claiming he is a writer of detective fiction. Underneath this suave facade, he feels entitled to an easy life and is enraged by those he sees denying him, primarily women. There is Laurel Gray, the cynical aspiring actress who lives next door and Sylvia Nicolai, the wife of his best friend during the war. Sylvia is married to Dix’s old war buddy, who just happens to be a detective investigating the recent string of murders plaguing the city.

Hughes takes these classic noir characters (the femme fatale, the good girl, the detective, and the killer) and uses them to play with the readers expectations. The result is a novel grounded in, but not straightjacketed by, the genre. I won’t give any more of the details away. Just know that this is not a ‘standard’ noir tale in execution or resolution.

Do be warned though, it can take a bit of time to adjust to this excellent work. The prose can be dense and heated, the slang sometimes obtuse, and it is grounded in the mores of its time. That being said, this slim novel is well worth your limited reading time.

Heartwood 9:3 – Empty Words by Mario Levrero

Uruguayan novelist Mario Levrero’s Empty Words is a deceptively appealing little book, in large part about a most unlikely subject: penmanship. The unnamed narrator is hoping that his self-imposed handwriting-improvement exercises will relieve his anxiety and improve other aspects of his life. This proves to be a tall order and one that is frequently stymied.

But this is only one half of the book. The other half is what Levrero calls The Discourse, which has the rather nebulous goal of discovering its real subject matter beneath the simple flow or rhythm of what he describes as an apparently empty form. This is something that can’t be forced. As the narrator describes it:

I need to be alert, but with my eyes half-closed, as if I were thinking about something else entirely and had no interest in the discourse taking shape. It’s like climbing into a fish tank and waiting for the waters to settle and the fish to forget they had ever been disturbed, so they move closer, their curiosity drawing them toward me and toward the surface of the tank. Then I’ll be able to see them – and perhaps even catch one.

The ritual of practice is the main force that binds the two parts of the book together, but it is an embedded variety of practice that loses itself in the activity and has no concern for anything outside itself. This indifference to outside matters is critical. For the handwriting exercises to be successful, the protagonist must focus simply on forming appropriate letters without the typical concern in writing with expressing meaning – in fact, if he drifts into emotion-laden topics or areas of personal concern, he loses sight of his task and his penmanship goes to hell. In other words, the narrator’s handwriting is an outer manifestation of his inner state and its success is largely dependent on him not focusing on substantive matters. The Discourse, conversely, seeks to engage in an activity (in this case, a kind of half-willed psychological probing), that requires practice and attention but that remains outside of the narrator’s control. For the goal of the Discourse to be met, the narrator must keep his psychic antennae alert but cannot attempt to influence whatever it is they may pick up. He must simply be open and attentive to see if the real nature of the discourse might emerge.

Of course, the world intrudes on his practice with regularity, and both parts of the book braid through each other with the details of the narrator’s domestic existence – his wife whose habits and temperament are quite different from his own; his ever-curious son who interrupts him at every opportunity; interruptions from the telephone or buzzing electrical equipment; his concerns about needing to tie up his books and arrange for moving house; and not least, his role as primary caretaker of the family dog and a newly adopted cat.

Life, as we know, largely consists of intrusions and responsibilities and interruptions and interactions. Fiction, too, must hum with the conflicts and messiness of its characters’ lives. Levrero clearly understands this and it is in these disruptions and the details of the narrator’s attempt to improve his inner life that we come to find Empty Words a brilliant and moving tribute to both the mundane and sublime.

That the handwriting exercises both contain and are about the act of their composition makes for an inherently playful dynamic which is further amplified by the narrator’s commentaries on his anxious world of interruptions, domestic responsibilities, and the wish for whatever is behind the blocked or walled-off part of his psyche to reveal itself to him.

We learn about both the narrator’s life and inner life in the course of his diaristic writing but also through the quality of the writing itself. There is a calm and precision in the language that belies his claims of anxiety (which he partly tracks through the number of cigarettes he smokes in a day). We learn that he is a novelist and that he is quite interested in psychology, sharing with us a number of his dreams, and mentioning in passing such figures as Freud and Jung along with comments on the anima, id, ego, and superego.

The narrator is also a bit of a soul-seeker. He mentions favoring a Zen approach to getting things done (in contrast to his wife’s tackling things by sheer willpower). And his handwriting practice is after all a course of self-therapy in the hope of self-improvement. It’s a start-and-stop process, and the results are a bit tenuous, but the execution of these exercises and his open-ended explorations in the discourse do seem to help him “to place himself within himself,” to learn to go with the flow, and to find a more grounded way to respond to circumstances beyond his control. As he says toward the end: “it’s all a question of finding the right balance, by means of a kind of spiritual acrobatics.”

I think I’ve failed here to communicate what a charming and eccentric character Levrero has created in his protagonist. It was a pleasure to step into his mind as it sought (but sought not) the words that became Empty Words.

28 Barbary Lane

The first time I read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City was 23 years ago. I had seen the six-part miniseries on PBS and wanted more. I usually read a book before seeing the movie, but this was a fluke; one of those 3 A.M. PBS airings when insomnia has had its way with you so you watch TV hoping late night TV will work as anesthesia. Instead, I became infatuated with the characters. I hit up the bookstore the next day and bought Tales of the City, a book I’ve read 9 times now.

Picture it: San Francisco in the 70s. The hippies are still around but the up and coming disco era is in ascent. The city is a haven for gay bars, discos, and bathhouses. All places to have intimate, no-strings-attached sex.

24-year-old Midwesterner on vacation, Mary Ann Singleton has been in San Francisco for five days. She’s made a decision that will drastically change her life: she calls her mother at home in Cleveland and tells her mother to tell her boss she’s not coming home. Her mother cajoles her and says she’s had her fun but enough is enough: time to come home and never look back at that modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.

But Mary Ann’s made up her mind. She needs to make a life of her own and she’ll do it in San Francisco. She crashes at an old high school friend’s place, a woman she considers a typical California airhead who, my God, not only has a pet rock but the Joy of Sex and dirty magazines right out on the coffee table for anyone to see. Mary Ann’s trying to shed some of her Midwestern naïveté, but when her friend talks her into cruising at a Safeway, Mary Ann decides she’s done living with her high school friend.

She answers an ad for an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane on Russian Hill. The landlady, Mrs. Anna Madrigal, is somewhere in her 50s and a mix between a screen siren of the 30s and a mystical gypsy.  She welcomes Mary Ann to her new home and later on tapes a joint to her door as a welcome to the family gesture. Anna Madrigal has a few shadowy secrets of her own, as all eccentric landladies should.

What follows is the story of the tenants of 28 Barbary Lane; their lives intertwining with their neighbors, their eccentric landlady and the lives of others outside the apartment. These tenants include Mona Ramsey, at the tail end of her own hippie years, who is close with Mrs. Madrigal, a sometime lesbian who works for an advertising firm.

Michael “Mouse” Tolliver is Mona’s best friend. She calls herself his ‘hag,’ a woman who constantly spends time with gay men. He says if things were different, he’d be in love with her. But Michael is looking for real love, the kind where you buy a puppy together and still go on picnics after being together for decades.

Brian Hawkins, a former lawyer turned waiter, is chasing women while saddled with a romantic heart. He thinks the best thing about San Francisco is that all the men are looking for each other and leaving him with plenty of women to choose from.

Each character is trying to find their lives in the city while they get into and out of relationships, life and death, the 70s, and what the 80s will bring. I honestly have not stopped thinking about these characters for the last 23 years. They’ll randomly pop into my head while I’m driving somewhere, in the middle of watching TV, and during my own writing. I’ve reread all 9 books in the Tales of the City series in the last two weeks and, though this will sound cheesy, I turn to them when I’m not feeling so hot or need a story I know is going to take me out of my own head. I all but stroke the cover of Tales of the City while hissing “My preciousss.”

So get in the Way Back When machine and immerse yourself in 28 Barbary Lane, where people find family even when their biological family is scattered in all directions. There also might be a murder somewhere in there, and one hell of a huge secret about Mrs. Madrigal.

And don’t forget the Welcome to Your New Home joint taped to your front door. You’re going to need it.

Back in My Day…

Historical reenactment has always seemed a weird yet compelling activity to me. Sure it is easy to laugh at grown adults in period costumes trying to recreate a bygone era, but you have to admire the commitment. As a person of many compulsions myself (yes, there is a large schematic of the USS Voyager hanging above the fireplace at home), I definitely understand the desire to live out the obsession, if only for a brief time.

But there is a danger: Do reenactors want to know what it was like to live in an era or do they actually want to go back to that time? Worse yet, do they think of that era as a golden age that needs to be applied to today’s world? It is this possibility for toxic nostalgia that lies at the heart of Sarah Moss’ excellent, haunting and ‘disturbing in a good way’ novel, Ghost Wall.

Sylvie finds herself in a remote location in Northern England with her enthusiastic and domineering father, Bill, and her compliant mother, Alison. They are there for a two-week ‘holiday’ reenacting the lives of Iron Age Britons. As you might guess, wearing an itchy tunic, foraging for berries, and eating cold porridge is hardly a dream come true for a young adult. Luckily, they are joined by a group from the local university (a professor of ‘experimental archaeology’ and three students) who provide an outlet for Sylvie to escape her family from time to time.

The author slowly reveals that Bill’s relationship with his wife and daughter is clearly abusive. Worse still, his passion for recreating the lives of Iron Age Britons extends to a rather disturbing ritual: human sacrifice, complete with the disposal of the body in a local bog. Sylvie, due to years of living in an abusive family, has a tendency to accept her father’s bullying behavior even when it becomes extreme. After befriending Molly, one of the students, she begins to see that there is another way of living.

While the plot of this short novel is excellent, it’s really the author’s mesmerizing use of language that stands out. To get a feel for it, a lengthy quote is in order:

Of course, that was the whole point of the re-enactment, that we ourselves became the ghosts, learning to walk the land as they walked it two thousand years ago, to tend our fire as they tended theirs and hope that some of their thoughts, their way of understanding the world, would follow the dance of muscle and bone. To do it properly, I thought, we would almost have to absent ourselves from ourselves, leaving our actions, our re-enactions, to those no longer there. Who are the ghosts again, us or our dead? Maybe they imagined us first, maybe we were conjured out of the deep past by other minds.

There are many such elegant and thought provoking passages in Ghostwall, making it a excellent use of your limited reading time. No period costume required.

Hi, I’m Carol and I Use She/Her Pronouns

A funny thing happened on the way to the blog. I had an inclusion epiphany at the joint Oregon Library Association/Washington Library Association conference.

Conferences have name badges, and often there are also trays of different colored ribbons representing different interest groups and jobs that a conference attendee can select and adhere to the bottom of their badge. At the OLA/WLA conference, there was a bright yellow ribbon with a blank spot underneath. The top read, “My pronouns are” and you could write your personal pronouns below. I loved the idea, but didn’t want to take a ribbon away from someone else who needed it.

Yup, I actually thought I was doing everyone a favor by not using the ribbon, since I use she/her pronouns and I’ve never been misgendered. However, I quickly learned that by taking the lead in stating your own personal pronouns you’re showing allyship and normalizing this type of exchange of information. You’re laying the groundwork for change. This was my inclusion epiphany.

Luckily, as with many complicated and nuanced issues, there’s a well-written book to help us understand. A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson packs a lot of information into 60 pages. This book succinctly explains what pronouns are, how to use them, and why they matter in the first place. Hint: misgendering someone is demoralizing at best and demeaning at worst. And no matter how inclusive you think you are, you can always do better.

Archie and Tristan, the authors, are longtime best friends and offer two different perspectives on gender-neutral pronouns. Archie is a genderqueer artist and explains from the perspective of someone who uses they/them pronouns and wishes the world would get on board already. Tristan is a cisgender dude who wants to start introducing gender-neutral pronouns at work. He explains from the perspective of an ally and friend who wants to change his and his organization’s habits.

Both Archie and Tristan want to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone. They know that understanding and talking about personal pronouns is a simple way to offer support and understanding.

Written in graphic novel format, this book is a fun and informative way to get up to speed on how language has changed and what you can do to be supportive, inclusive, and welcoming. Archie and Tristan run through everyday scenarios they and their friends have experienced. This helps the reader understand what it’s like to be non-binary and constantly misgendered, as well as how difficult it can be to change old habits even if you want to do better.

It can be a struggle for everyone, but the only way to affect change is to keep working on it. In the back of the book there are a couple of quick reference sheets you can practice with until this becomes natural to you. For instance, there’s a list of different ways to ask for someone’s pronouns. One point the authors make is something I’m still correcting myself about. For a while I was saying, “What pronouns do you prefer?” but that suggests that gender is a preference. The authors are clear that asking, “What pronouns do you use?” is the best way to go.

There are also ideas for how to recover when you mess up someone’s pronouns. Hint: don’t make it a big deal, just apologize and move on while remembering their pronouns for next time. Also, for those of us who grew up with parents who taught us that showing respect meant using gendered words like sir and ma’am, there’s a list of non-gendered words you can use instead.

Other ideas to create more inclusive environments for non-binary folks:

  • Be the first: introduce yourself to someone new as I did in this post title:
    “Hi, I’m ___ and I use ___ pronouns.”
  • Add your pronouns to your email signature and/or business card.
  • Begin a meeting with a new group by asking folks to go around the room and state their name and pronouns.
  • Talk to your boss about gendered language in policies and handbooks that could be neutralized.
  • If you work with official forms, ask if references to gender binaries like male/female can be removed.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and we’re all going to make mistakes along the way. Just keep moving forward, keep trying harder, and have those conversations with friends and coworkers. The more work you take on, the more you’ll clear the way for everyone else.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see about getting my pronouns added to my name badge at work.

Ruff vs. Fluff by Spencer Quinn

Ruff vs. Fluff is the first title in the Queenie and Arthur series of children’s books by Spencer Quinn.

Arthur the dog and Queenie the (perfect and beautiful) cat have a family that consists of twins Harmony and Bro and their Mom. They all live at the Blackberry Inn. Generally life is good, until a man checks into the Inn and involves the kids in a mystery from the days of prohibition. He also happens to get murdered in the hills behind the Inn.

Harmony and Bro’s cousin, Matty, ends up being the prime suspect for the man’s murder. Arthur and Queenie help the twins sniff out the clues to clear Matty’s name, in addition to assisting the police in solving the crime.

Ruff vs. Fluff is narrated by Queenie and Ruff. Spencer Quinn has another children’s books series titled Bowser and Birdie and an adult series called Chet and Bernie. Both are told from the animals point of view and are very enjoyable!