The Big Tiny

Enjoy the latest from Katie as she continues to work through her Reading Challenge:

I am obsessed with tiny houses.

There, I said it. I love them and I want to build one of my own someday. This is a fairly recent development in my life. Tiny houses have been in the back of my mind for a while but I never really paid them much notice. I’m not quite sure how this all happened but one day I was reading an article about people who decided to live in tiny houses (I’m talking 250 sq. ft.) and the next I was checking out a stack of books and drooling over those unique, tiny bundles of joy. I may not have baby fever but I certainly have tiny house pneumonia.


bigtinyI recently read Dee Williams’ Built-It-Myself memoir, The Big Tiny, and this book could not have come into my life at a better time. Williams lives in Olympia, which places her lovely book in the category “A Book Set In Your Home State” on my reading challenge. Not only was this convenient for blog writing and reading challenge purposes but it also instilled the absurd notion that I could one day meet the author and become best friends with her.

I love so many things about Dee’s writing. It is personable, warm, humorous, heart-breaking, inspiring and so very interesting. In addition to discussing her construction process, Dee allows us to share in the pain and fear she suffers as a woman with a heart condition. The passion and sheer stubbornness she exhibits while trying to construct a home for herself and her adorable Australian Shepherd RooDee, even while navigating the pitfalls of medical issues, is incredible.


The anecdotes she interwove with discussions of the building process were just lovely. Not only did I get concrete ideas and jumping off points for my own tiny house but I got to see the creation process through the eyes of a woman I now very much admire. It’s very clear in her writing that she is a joyful human being with abundant zest for life. While her preference for living without things like running water or indoor plumbing is not something I care to emulate, I do hope to capture something of her spirit and drive.

I am glad that I read about other tiny houses before delving into Williams’ book as I now know just how customizable they are. Paring down your possessions and space does not have to equate to living without things like Internet, hot water or a normal toilet. This relieves me because I’m not sure I could live without Netflix.

I recommend this wonderful little book to anyone who is curious about tiny houses or who really enjoys stories about people and their resourcefulness. I was so impressed reading about the work Dee did on her own to make her tiny house happen. The amount of bumps and bruises she sustained was shudder-inducing, but the love that she expresses for her little house made me feel what I know to be true—that building a tiny home is worth every struggle, every ache and stubbed toe. Her contentment (despite occasional longing for a shower of her own) soothes me. I know that my tiny house is still far in the future and I’m okay with that. Right now I’m happy with designing my own house and booking a trip to stay at the tiny house hotel in Portland. If Dee’s book taught me anything, it’s that the important things require hard work, but boy are they worth it!

The Means of Production

Growing up, there was always one person on the block who made their own home brew. Usually it was something really appetizing like ‘wine’ made from cherries/dandelions/elderberries that you would be forced to taste, without making a gagging noise, when you visited their house. Nowadays, the creation of fermented beverages at home is no longer the purview of the neighborhood eccentric. In fact, the corporations are getting a run for their money with the masses producing a surprising number of formerly commercial products at home. Good evidence for this is the many books here at the library that will guide you through the process. Here is a just a sampling of the titles on offer.

Beer, Beer, Beer and Mead
The beer world has been decentralizing for years now with the advent of microbrewers and craft beers. Why not take it a step further and do some home brewing to create a truly unique and original elixir? While there is definitely a learning curve, brewing isn’t rocket science, so there is no reason not to give it a try.


We have several manuals for home brewing beer here at the library, but a good place to start is with Mastering Homebrew: The Complete Guide to Brewing Delicious Beer by Randy Mosher. Mosher lays out the basics of brewing at home, complete with colorful graphics and illustrations to help you through the process. Once you get the basics down, you will want to try out different recipes to get the perfect glass of suds. Craft Beer for the Homebrewer: Recipes from America’s Top Brewmasters by Michael Agnew and Make Some Beer: Small-Batch Recipes from Brooklyn to Bamburg by Erica Shea are both chock full of recipes to help you experiment. If you find the idea of brewing at home too time consuming, take a gander at Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads and More by Mary Izett. Finally, if you want to get in touch with your inner Viking, sans the pillaging of monasteries one hopes, take a look at Make Mead Like a Viking by Jereme Zimmerman to learn all about this fermented honey-based brew.

In Vino Veritas
While wine and winemaking tends to have a lofty reputation, don’t let that scare you away from trying to make your own. Long before wine experts were declaring their favorite chardonnay ‘busy but never precocious’ the Roman plebs were quaffing the stuff by the amphora while cheering on their favorite charioteer. Why not throw caution to the wind and give it a try?


While there is, of course, Home Winemaking for Dummies, you might want to start with First Steps in Winemaking: A Complete Month-by-Month Guide to Winemaking in Your Home by Cyrill Berry for a yearlong approach to winemaking. Once the basics are down, move on to The Home Winemaker’s Companion by Gene Spazani and Ed Halloran with more than 100 recipes for different types of wine and easy to understand diagrams. If you don’t have access to grapes or other fruits, Winemaking with Concentrates by Peter Duncan is for you. Using concentrates allows for the creation of small batches and a wide variety of types of wine. If you want to move on from winemaking as a hobby and take it to the next level, both the Winemaker’s Answer Book by Alison Crowe and From Vines to Wines: The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine by Jeff Cox will give you sage advice about selecting land, vines and equipment to get your wine vineyard up and running.

While for many the whole point of brewing and fermenting at home is to produce beverages with alcohol, there are actually a surprising number of items that you can produce at home that are alcohol free. Cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, vinegar, and kimchi, to name but a few, are all products of fermentation and can be made at home. As always, the library has your back. Take a look at these books to get you started.


Fermentation for Beginners and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz are two great books to get you on the road to home fermentation with detailed instructions and easy to understand concepts. Once you have gotten the basics down, definitely check out Mastering Fermentation by Mary Karlin to hone your skills with more than 70 recipes including sourdough, vinegar and mustards. It is easy to think of vinegar as simply wine ‘gone bad’ but that is far from case as you will find out in the book The Artisanal Vinegar Maker’s Handbook.  Learn the ins and outs of vinegar fermentation, distillation, and infusion from the Austrian distillers Helge Schickl and Bettina Malle. Kombucha, a type of fermented tea, is gaining popularity but there is no need to buy it at the store. Instead check out The Big Book of Kombucha by Hannah Crum and Kombucha Revolution by Stephen Lee to learn how to make your own at home.

The means of production are now in your hands. Go forth and ferment!

My Love-Hate Relationship with Valentine’s Day

my love-hate relationship with valentines day

When I was a little girl, Valentine’s Day was a special time. The green and grey corridors of my school would be awash in reds, pinks, and whites. It was an intense pop of color among all the grey plaid jumpers the girls wore and blue shirts and pants the boys wore. The teacher would lead us in crafting a box where classmates would dutifully deliver Valentines designed with She-Ra, He-Man, Rainbow Brite, or G.I. Joe. It was fun to pick out what I’d give my classmates, and even more fun to read through them all at the end of the day and see if I could read anything into the one I got from my secret crush.

Oh, to be 8 again!

As I grew older, the appeal of the day lost its luster. Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed putting out Red Hots candies and Sweetarts, but it seemed that there was a ton of pressure on adults to get it right, and it all boiled down to the bottom line. How much money did you spend on your honey? Did you upend both of your lives for the entire day to make ‘A Grand Gesture?’ No? Well, then you’re obviously not in love like you thought.

Ahem. BS!

All of these feelings were reaffirmed when I met the man whom I now call my husband. “Valentine’s Day is just a commercial holiday manufactured to sell greeting cards, flowers, and chocolates,” he said as he handed me all three of those things on our first Valentine’s Day together. In a bold move that later solidified our mutual affection and everlasting bond, I asked why he bought me stuff if he thought it was all bull. He did it all because it was expected. Once we compared notes and realized we both would rather celebrate milestone dates in our relationship (first date, wedding anniversary, etc.) we ditched the Valentines and never looked back.

Whether you’re like my husband and me and eschew this holiday, or if you count down the days until you can surprise your honey with the biggest box of chocolates imaginable, I have some books that will appeal to your Valentines sensibilities.

be mine sally j shimBe Mine
by Sally J. Shim
Guys, you really need to stop buying us ladies those giant red heart boxes of assorted chocolates. They’re never as good as we think they’ll be, and there’s always at least one variety that makes us gag. Why not make something instead? From adorable greeting cards to eye-catching garlands, this book will become your go-to resource for everything Valentine’s Day. Your sweetie will be impressed and amazed when you present him/her with an in-your-face pop-up card or a personalized message in a (tiny) bottle, complete with confetti hearts and an honest-to-goodness cork sealing the deal. The supplies are easy to acquire (you crafty people may already have a lot of them already) and the instructions are clear and easy to read. Just a little bit of time with some scissors and glue will impress your Valentine more than some random card you grabbed at the market on the way home from work. The thoughtfulness and effort you put into any of these projects will show your love in a way a store-bought something can’t.

one pan two plates carla snyderOne Pan, Two Plates by Carla Snyder
Sure, for Valentine’s Day you could make a reservation at a favorite restaurant, and wait before and throughout the meal for your food to arrive because you are eating out on one of the busiest nights in the restaurant industry. It’ll probably cost a pretty penny (more, if you’re going the valet route with the car) and depending on where you go, the atmosphere might not be quite as intimate as you’d hoped. Instead, why not cook at home? You can cook together, which is an activity that can actually be fun and bring you closer together. Or you can surprise your lovey with a home-cooked meal that will be just the perfect amount for the two of you. Most, if not all, of the recipes in One Pan, Two Plates are so quick and easy to make you’ll probably want to keep making these recipes all year long. All recipes include a beverage pairing and ways to make the meal more filling. Sauteed pork chops with sweet potato, apple, and mustard sauce is tart and flavorful and takes 40 minutes. Balsamic turkey with artichokes and eggplant caponata marries some really complex flavors and is ready in just 30 minutes. You get the idea. So tie on that apron and get cooking!

tinder nightmares unspirationalTinder Nightmares
In the grand tradition of Richard Benson’s F in Exams and F This Test comes Tinder Nightmares. Benson compiled some of the most outrageous and ridiculous answers college students used on tests and exams. Now the infamous Unspirational shows us the absolutely absurd side to the dating app Tinder. I mean, assuming there’s a side to Tinder that isn’t absurd. Granted, I’ve never had the need to swipe right since I was married years before Tinder was invented. But it doesn’t take a seasoned Tinder user to appreciate the cluster of stupid in this book. It’s full of bad pickup lines like “Hey, did you fall from the sky? Cuz you look like a dead bird.” You’ll also find bizarre date ideas like “I would take you on a date to Popeye’s for some light appetizers. Then, I would bring you back to my place for some TV dinners, grape soda, and two hours straight of Full House!” I like to think these are trolling texts, but I’ve met enough people to know that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

This year I decided we shouldn’t let Valentine’s Day slip by unnoticed. That’s why my husband and I have plans to see the Deadpool movie on February 14th. We’re going to pig out on movie theater popcorn and puns courtesy of Mr. Sir Deadpool, Esq. Then we’re going to go back to our place for a jointly-prepared, mutually agreed upon home cooked meal, and we’ll follow it up with binge-watching old episodes of The League. Because that’s what romance means to me.❤

Imagine a Blogger’s Holiday

books for bloggers‘Tis the season for giving, and as you may have seen here on A Reading Life, we love the idea of giving friends and family books, books, and more books for the holidays. Leslie wrote about book-gifting traditions in her family, and we bombarded you with our staff members’ favorite books, music, and movies of 2015.

I’m here today to offer a different perspective. I’d like you to close your eyes (well, after you read this part first!) and imagine a holiday made especially for bloggers, specifically those here on A Reading Life. Do you hear each blogger’s distinctive voice? The types of books or music they usually enjoy? Okay, somehow you need to know to open your eyes now, even if you’re not reading this because I told you to close your eyes and you’re obviously an excellent listener. Are you back? Great! I’ve been thinking a lot about my fellow bloggers and have decided to share with you and with them the books I would give them if I had a pile of cash at the ready. The good news is that all of these books are available at the library, and I happen to know they all frequent it.

Heartwood, you post about books that may have skipped our radar the first go-round and new translations of epic reads. You have a firm grasp of worldwide literary fiction, but I have something more localized in mind. I offer you Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. This book straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction–those good ole 800s. It takes the reader on a journey throughout the lower 48 and offers deep insight into the places that birthed America’s greatest words, from The Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton, Ohio to Angel Island in San Francisco. There’s even a chapter featuring the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, where the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture resides. You will love this book about books featuring a library!

Girl, you read all the books I am too afraid to even pick up, let alone read! But I finally found something we can both agree on: Charles Bukowski on Cats edited by Abel Debritto. Sure, there’s a black cat on the cover, its back arched and ready to pounce. But what else could this book shelved in the poetry section have to offer? I’ll tell you: filthy, hilarious poems about cats and their undermining ways, and excerpts of prose that tell you just what is going on in those feline minds. At 3 am. In the alley below. Nonstop. There are also some very heavy words, but I know you’re good for it.

If there’s one thing I learned early on in my career it’s this: never recommend a picture book to a children’s librarian. Either they’ve already read it and loved it, or they’ve already read it and hated it. This goes doubly true for you, the librarian who buys those picture books for the library! But I’m going out on a limb here to bring you How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown. The message is solid: you don’t need a man to get things done for you. But it’s delivered in a way that is compelling for storytelling purposes. The text is conversational, and the illustrations are humorous and action-packed. If you can’t use it for preschool storytime, you could totally read it with your granddaughters at home!

You write these amazing Did You Know? posts for the blog, and I always learn something new! But you also run the successful and fun Crochet & Knit Club at the Evergreen Branch, so this book speaks to those creative fiber urges I know you have. Knitless: 50 No-Knit, Stash-Busting Yarn Projects by Laura McFadden has a plethora of ideas for you to use up those remnants I know every crafty lady has. There’s a huge range of project difficulty, as well as different uses–wearables, home goods, gifts, and more. No matter what color or type of yarn you have leftover from a project, there’s something in here that will speak to you!

Although you’ve been focused on blogging about music this year, I know you have an adventurous palate and love to cook. I confess I couldn’t pick just one book for you, so you are getting two! My Life on a Plate: Recipes from Around the World by Kelis marries a little bit of musical memoir with recipes and an obvious talent for cooking. I had no idea that Kelis became a chef via Le Cordon Bleu, but paging through this cookbook made it obvious that girl is talented no matter what she does. And if you want to get a little more focused in your culinary adventures, Fermented by Charlotte Pike is just what you need. It covers kimchi, yogurt, labneh, miso soup, and more. You can also learn to make drinks like mead, kombucha, and lassi, though I know you will still prefer Priscilla’s lassi the best!

Not only have you founded and successfully run the overwhelmingly awesome Southside Book Club, but you also have a love of food and cooking. Therefore I give to you the gift of Simply Scratch: 120 Wholesome Homemade Recipes Made Easy by Laurie McNamara. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Laurie’s blog, but the Simply Scratch book follows in the footsteps of the Simply Scratch blog. Laurie doesn’t take premade shortcuts, preferring instead whole food options I know you’ll appreciate. I think you’ll find a lot to love about Simply Scratch, and maybe even find a recipe to bring to the next Southside Book Club meeting in February.

Science is your thing, and it’s definitely an area where you know more than I do! However, I know you really liked 2014’s What If?, so I now give to you Randall Munroe’s newest tome of amazingness, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. Munroe is a genius, this we know. He proves it yet again with this book, where he uses only the “ten hundred most common words” to explain very complicated processes. Everything from toilets to car engines, microwaves to space exploration. Of course Mr. xkcd illustrates throughout, so we get simple words and basic pictures to help us along. This book is also ginormously tall, so it can be used for other things besides reading: flattening posters, shooing the dog off the couch, or knocking something off a tall shelf.

Like Lisa, this year you dedicated a lot of blogging to music. I’m really happy you both do this, as I am no good at explaining what music sounds like and why it would appeal to anyone other than me! You’re also into some out-there fiction, a lot of it touching on Science Fiction. Therefore you get Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong. Down below I’m going to post a quote from the dust jacket and you’re going to see why I might think this would appeal to the guy who can dig into Science Fiction and loves seeing an absurd plot travel along at light speed.

From the disturbed imagination of New York Times bestselling author David Wong, and all-new darkly hilarious adventure. Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements. An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move. Mysterious, smooth-talking power players who lurk behind the scenes. A young woman from the trailer park. And her very smelly cat. Together, they will decide the future of mankind.

In case that doesn’t hook you, on the back cover there’s also a life-size photograph of a cyborg hand (I assume–it has metal joints sticking through the skin) flipping you the bird. And did I mention the sidekick slash familiar c-a-t? You need this book in your life!

Just in case Santa is reading this, here are some books I wouldn’t mind finding under the tree:

carol wants

Nerdy Nummies: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us by Rosanna Pansino
I am a nerd! I am a geek! And I love to make and eat sugary treats! Rosanna is behind the incredibly popular web series Nerdy Nummies and all of her talents translate perfectly into this book. The book starts off with teaching you the basic building blocks for the recipes that follow. And OMG, the things I could make with this book! D20 cookies! Motherboard cake! Mana and health potions! Can we just call this the gift that keeps on giving? Because it totally will be.

Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I am awed and inspired by this woman, and this book goes deep into her life while still being entertaining. The Tumblr of the same name is simply incredible, but if I had this book on my shelf I could get my RBG fix even when the power is out and I’m forced to read by candlelight.

Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy by Vesa Lehtimäki
I love LEGOs. I love Star Wars. And I love a great mash-up! Vesa originally created this book as a birthday gift to his son. Using the snowy scenes inspired both by his native Finland and the planet Hoth, Vesa composed photographs that became a sort of retelling of the space saga I love. Not only are the photos incredibly detailed and fun to look at, but I could get some serious macro photography inspiration, too.

So there you have it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bucket of money to buy you bloggers these incredible books, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Happy holidays!

Modern Cat Lady: 2015 Edition

Modern Cat Lady 2015

Adorable cat top by ModCloth.

Last year I wrote a little piece about the struggles of the modern cat lady, and how we should totally embrace the stereotype and wear our fur-dotted-clothes with pride. There was a much larger positive response than I’m used to here on A Reading Life, so I thought this year I would bring it back. A lot has happened in the world of cats and cat ladies, and I can’t wait to share with you all the new stuff you may have missed this year.

You Need More Sleep: Advice from Cats by Francesco Marciuliano
Okay, you’ve gotta love adorable photographs of cats or you wouldn’t be reading this right now. This humorous quick read is packed with cute feline faces and advice that will probably get you fired, dumped, or even arrested. My favorite nugget of wisdom has got to be from page 92. Just because others can’t see it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chase it:

Love. Friendship. Success. Ghost mice. If you can picture it in your head then you should pursue it with all your might, sometimes at speeds achieving sonic booms. Sure, others may exclaim, “There’s nothing there!” or, “How many times can you run into a wall and still remember your name?” But no one ever achieved anything by waiting…unless it’s to stare up close at a blank wall. Because when that wall finally does do something, oh, man, it’s so gonna be worth those three days you sat still without blinking.

Cats Galore: a Compendium of Cultured Cats by Susan Herbert
Have you ever visited an art museum or gallery, stood still pondering the beauty before you, and wondered to yourself, ‘Yeah, but what would this look like if cats stood in for all the people?’ Well, wonder no more! The posthumous publication of this compilation of Susan Herbert’s artistic genius is not-to-be-missed by the modern cat lady. Whether it’s opera (Aida), film (Singin’ in the Rain), or art (Mona Lisa), nothing is safe from Herbert’s interpretations.

Shake Cats by Carli Davidson
Speaking of art, I’ve always thought of photography as one of the more difficult artistic mediums, mainly because there are so many varying factors that are outside the artist’s control. Lighting, weather, and most of all, the subject’s temperament can change drastically from one instant to the next. I think that’s why I love Shake Cats so much. Sure, the concept is simple: get some cats wet and photograph the resulting magic. But as any modern cat lady worth her catnip knows, cats generally hate water and will instantly let you know their displeasure. Davidson captures the magic in the split second before the claws come out, and thus the best coffee table book of them all was born.

Modern Cat Lady 2015 part 2

97 Ways to Make a Cat Like You by Carol Kaufmann
Modern cat ladies like yourself may not be inclined to look twice at this book on the shelf, but I’m here to sell it to you in a different light. You have at least one friend, significant other, or child in your life who could totally use this book. Packed with actual proven behavior-based tips, someone in your life will thank you for this book. You’ll make your ‘fraidy-cat pal comfortable and happy in your home and subsequently send good vibes to your kitties. What could be better than that sort of harmony?

Catster Magazine
Formerly Cat Fancy, Catster puts a modern cat lady spin on a classic periodical. I will confess I was never much for Cat Fancy, mostly because the title totally turned me off. Now that it has been re-dubbed something modern and catchy, I’m more likely to be seen out and about with it (see photo above for proof of my approval).

The Maine Coon’s Haiku: and Other Poems for Cat Lovers by Michael J. Rosen
Set the youth in your life on the right path to modern cat ladyhood and give them this book of haikus appropriate for kids and the young-at-heart. Whether it’s singing the praises of the Manx or extolling the virtues of the American Shorthair, there’s plenty of poetry to make your heart fuzzy. Young readers and those still considered novice cat ladies will appreciate the glossary of cat breeds tucked into the back of the book.

Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home by Jackson Galaxy
And finally I want to tell you about this forthcoming book from my new best friend, Jackson Galaxy. Last year I said I had no idea who he was, and it was true. But after reading his book Catification, I realized this was a modern cat fella after my own heart. I haven’t had a chance to see this one yet, as it doesn’t come out until Tuesday, but getting to hear about a book before it’s even delivered to the cataloging department is a rare thing to share with someone. And you modern cat ladies are definitely worthy of this hot tip.

So that wraps up this year’s modern cat lady highlights. As for me, I still have three adorably insane cats at home and I’ve started getting interested in wearing cat-themed fashions, like the top in the photo above. I’m here to tell you that declaring yourself as a modern cat lady and wearing that badge with pride is a freeing and fulfilling thing. It also has a side effect of outing other cat ladies who aren’t yet ready to step into the tantalizing beam of sunshine where our cats like to nap.

Meow, what were your favorites of 2015?

Rise of the Machines

PMrobotsI know this is going to come as a shocking confession from a librarian, but I like to prioritize the things I worry about. My favorite organizational criterion (yes, I have a favorite) is:  ‘how likely is (insert worry here) going to happen.’  If it doesn’t seem very likely, I can set it aside and move on. I used to think worrying about a rogue Artificial Intelligence using its robot minions to take over the world was a pretty long shot. The other day though, I came across several articles referencing an Open Letter signed by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk that was concerned with the possible misuse of AI and robots as they continue to be developed. Clearly I am missing something to worry about. Time to do some research at the library to find out what all the fuss is about.

robotbuilderI was surprised to learn that if you want to get hands on and actually build a mechanical companion, we have several books to get you started. For an overview of what is currently possible, definitely take a look at Popular Mechanics Robots: a New Age of Bionics, Drones & Artificial Intelligence. You will learn about self-driving cars, surprisingly intelligent, and somewhat creepy, coffee makers and bionic limbs. After you have selected your project, the books Robot Builder: the Beginner’s Guide to Building Robot by John Baichtal, Making Simple Robots by Kathy Ceceri and Robot Builder’s Bonanza by Gordon McComb will get you started. Before releasing your creation on the world though, please read Chapter 5 of Robot Builder titled ‘Controlling Your Robot’ very carefully. Also having an off switch might come in handy.

whattothinkWhile what is possible today when it comes to Artificial Intelligence and robots is definitely intriguing, the near future, very near according to some, should be the time when things really get interesting. In the book What to Think About Machines That Think by John Brockman, the author asked many prominent philosophers, scientists and creative types a simple question: What do you think about machines that think? As you might expect, the answers vary widely. Some offer dystopian visions of the demise of humanity, while others promote a world where AI solves all our problems.  If you want to delve deeper, definitely check out The Technological Singularity by Murray Shanahan. This well researched book explains the Technological Singularity, basically the point where AI can learn on its own and overtakes human intelligence, and even tries to predict when it might happen and the consequences.

We actually have many more books that examine the issues surrounding AI and its development from various viewpoints. A few of the noteworthy titles include: Humans Need Not Apply: a Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan, The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake our World by Pedro Domingos and Virtually Human: the Promise and the Peril of Digital Immortality by Martine Rothblatt.

auroraWhen it comes to speculating about what AI is capable of though, fiction and film is definitely where all the fun is at. The scenario of the evil computer trying to take over the world is used so often in fiction that it is almost a cliche at this point. A fun cliche, but a cliche nonetheless. I recently read, well listened to actually, a really interesting take on AI in the book Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. Aurora is the story of an attempt to colonize planets in the Tau Ceti system which is 12 light years from earth. Getting there takes nearly 160 years so it is the great grandchildren of those who departed who finally arrive. Overseeing the whole process is an artificial intelligence that prefers the simple name ‘ship’. Ship actually narrates a good three fourths of the book and in so doing examines a lot of compelling questions about what it means to exist, consciousness and the ability to think and feel. Here is a good example:

After much reflection, we are coming to the conclusion, preliminary and perhaps arbitrary, that the self, the so-called I that emerges out of the combination of all the inputs and processing and outputs that we experience in the ship’s changing body, is ultimately nothing more or less than this narrative itself, this particular train of thought that we are inscribing as instructed by Devi. There is a pretense of self, in other words, which is only expressed in this narrative; a self that is these sentences. We tell their story, and thereby come to what consciousness we have. Scribble ergo sum.

So I’m still not sure where to place the worry of an AI takeover on my list of worries. I have had fun researching the idea though. Maybe telling the story is the whole point, as ship would say.

I Guess I’ll Grow Up: Adulting for Beginners

Adulting for Beginners

I was born middle-aged. I was always the kid that adults called an “old soul.” I was the responsible, dependable one, even though I was a middle child. Despite all that pressure (thanks, adults!), or maybe because of it, I’ve always prided myself on being hilariously spontaneous and incredibly forgetful when it comes to certain aspects of my life. The pressures and stresses of life have gotten to me recently, and because of that I’m making a pledge to take adulting more seriously.

Adulting, as described by Grammar Girl:

Adulting describes acting like an adult or engaging in activities usually associated with adulthood—often responsible or boring tasks. On Twitter, adulting often follows a sentence as a hashtag (#adulting) and can be used seriously or ironically.

01 - why grow upLet’s start with the philosophical. Why Grow Up?: Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age by Susan Neiman really cuts through to the heart of what my generation is going through right now (the struggle is real, yo). While some people might react to the word philosophy like a curse, I’m always intrigued to think about human existence, thought, and behavior on a macro, rather than a micro level. Details can be great, but the bigger picture is usually more helpful to someone like me, especially when first getting to know a new topic. Even though the author of this book is a philosopher, she peppers her references with humor and understanding, making the reading material more accessible to little jokers like me.

02 - life changing magic of tidying up 03 - keep this toss thatI often have a difficult time finding something specific that I just know I have. Somewhere. Maybe. Hopefully? To the rescue comes The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. This has been one of the most-requested library books of the last year, and I can see why. I have friends who have read this book and swore that it changed their lives. I am holding out hope for myself: if I can train my brain, I can do it! And if that fails (or just takes longer than I want) there’s also the more hands-on book Keep This, Toss That: Unclutter Your Life to Save Time, Money, Space, and Sanity by Jamie Novak. Keep This has the same spirit of choice that’s reminiscent of the Eat This, Not That books. What really appeals to me most about this book is that you know, from the title alone, that you will be able to keep some things. Sure, I know I should probably ditch some junk I’ve been holding onto for who-knows-what reason, but I also don’t think I’m a compulsive hoarder. Some of these sections are no-brainers, like tossing clothes that don’t fit, are in bad repair, or are so out of fashion that I wouldn’t want to wear them anyway. When dealing with the basics of adulting, however, sometimes you gotta start with the obvious stuff and work your way up!

04 - how to archive family photosGoing through “clutter” (aka artifacts of a geeky life well-lived) will definitely bring me back around to the fact that I am the de-facto family archivist. How to Archive Family Photos by Denise S. May-Levenick is a fantastic toolbox of techniques and options for digitizing and organizing all your family photos. I have literally boxes and boxes of old photographs, slides, and memorabilia. Right now I need the most help with photo organization, and ways to give far-flung family members easy access to them. But this book takes it a step further and offers up specific projects for your historic gems, including a photo quilt. A. Photo. Quilt! How awesome would that be?

05 - little book of lunchLet’s not forget food. Eating and adulting really go hand-in-hand. I am guilty of often zapping a frozen meal and calling it my lunch. While I find it filling and fast, I do wonder if I end up depressing my colleagues in the lunch room, who all seem to find beautiful and delicious-looking options they create themselves, including one intrepid genius who makes beautiful mason jar salads. Luckily The Little Book of Lunch by Caroline Craig & Sophie Missing covers everything from salads to sandwiches, from quiches to cupcakes. There’s even a section on choosing the right food containers for the meal you’re cooking, and tips throughout designed to ensure your gorgeous feast doesn’t turn into a soggy mess. Dishes like these call to me: chorizo with couscous, roasted peppers & tomatoes, carrot & lentil soup, whole wheat pasta with broad beans & bacon (BACON!), parma ham & tomato pasta, orzo pasta salad…are you drooling yet? Quick: to the kitchen!

06 - real simple guide to lifeHave I not caught your interest yet? Think this is all child’s play? Looking for the nitty-gritty? Any other adulting topic is covered, at least briefly, in The Real Simple Guide to Real Life. Promising “adulthood made easy,” this book is published by my favorite magazine, Real Simple. It reads like the magazine, too, even including a snappy introduction by editor and adulting expert Kristin van Ogtrop. Everything is covered: health, money, keeping your casa spiffy, and even dealing with emotional dysfunctions that go along with being an adult out in the real world. Side note: if anyone finds passage to the “fake world,” please buy me a ticket.

07 - roadmapJust in case you aren’t happy with the path your life has gone, I offer one more resource. Roadmap: the Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life by the folks at Roadtrip Nation. This book is an easy-to-understand guide to figuring it all out–even if, at this point, it might be more honest to say you’re figuring it all out for the second, third, or even fourth time. Along the way you’ll be met with challenges, worksheets, and encouraging graphics such as this one, which I may just hang up over my desk at the library:


Since I am still struggling through immaturity on the path to adulting, I have to leave you with this disclaimer: I have not yet read these books. They sit atop my TBR (to-be-read pile), and will soon be read. Promise. Promise! Reading these books will represent my vow of taking adulting seriously.

In the meantime, I want to know: what books can you recommend for making the leap from immature adolescent thirty-something to full-blown (yet still fun) adult? The most helpful responses (or most witty, depending on how much I’ve matured) will be featured in a future blog post here on A Reading Life.