Spring Cleaning Reading List

Confession time: I am the absolute worst at keeping everything clean and neat. Some people are extremely organized, and I’ve never been able to understand how they got that way. Other people turn to cleaning and organizing precisely when they feel stressed, as it gives them a measure of control over their environment and gives them something else to focus on for a while. Then there are people like me whose homes and work spaces always seem to be in chaos, as other priorities always seem to trump cleaning and organizing. Whether you’re extreme like me or fall somewhere else on the neatness Bell curve, here are some books that will help us out.

First, let’s talk about clutter. There’s no point in cleaning if there’s stuff to be put away, purged, or repaired, right? This logic is usually what keeps me from progressing with any home organizing or cleaning project. Fortunately The Home Decluttering Diet: Organize Your Way to a Clean and Lean Home by Jennifer Lifford exists. A rare combination of visual appeal and useful information, this book takes you through each room of your house and helps you make those tough decisions about what to keep and what to send away. Within each room, Lifford breaks the work down into smaller projects that are easier to chip away at so that procrastinators like me can’t use the “I don’t have time to do the whole room tonight” line. Every. Single. Night.

If this book doesn’t appeal, try the more direct Unf*ck your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess by Rachel Hoffman. While the title is eye-catching, the blurbs on the back by personal heroes Kelly Sue DeConnick and Cory Doctorow are what sold me. It’s based on a 20/10 system where you clean for 20 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. While this might sound completely obvious to the Martha Stewarts of the world, I need this actually written down so that I can give myself some breathing room when it comes to tackling what is already going to be an unpleasant or at least not fun project. If you’re a professional procrastinator or are really good about ignoring random junk piling up in your entryway, this book might be for you (and it’s definitely for me.)

However, if you think reading a how-to manual on decluttering is too remedial or an insult to your intelligence (seriously, there is no judgement here!) you may find inspiration from someone else’s journey to live a clutter-free life. Year of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub shows the psychological side of clutter and hoarding. While she spends a year tackling her “Hell Room” where stuff has just piled up in overwhelming chaos, she also explores hoarding in general through some of the recognizable media out there: the TV show Hoarders and the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. As Schaub conquers her psychological clutter, you may find yourself inspired to roll up your sleeves and tackle your own “Hell Room.”

Now let’s talk about cleaning. I think you can learn a lot about them just from their titles: The Cleaning Ninja: How to Clean Your Home in 8 Minutes Flat and Other Clever Housekeeping Techniques by Courtenay Hartford and Clean My Space: the Secret to Cleaning Better, Faster–and Loving Your Home Every Day by Melissa Maker. Both books break down cleaning challenges into smaller tasks, explaining the more difficult ones in detail while also not talking down to you. There are tips for the best kinds of cleaning equipment to own (I bet my cats would love a feather duster!) and professional advice for every level of cleaner (let’s call it slacker–like me– to pro).

Finally, I turn my gaze to organization. After all, it’s the last hurdle after conquering clutter and busting those dust bunnies. And I’ve found the perfect-for-me book: Organized Enough: the Anti-Perfectionist’s Guide to Getting–and Staying–Organized by Amanda Sullivan. There’s some overlap here with decluttering, but the sections on which types of paperwork to keep and for how long really shine. The book is divided into two sections. The first part helps you learn to think differently about your stuff and your habitat. The second part cultivates specific skills that will aid you in staying organized for good. That’s great news for people like me who want to put in the work once and just be done with it.

If you don’t want to spend tons of precious time dealing with the stress and emotional work of decluttering, cleaning, and organization, join me in my spring cleaning quest that all starts with the right book.

Failure is an Option

Promises, promises. They are easy to make, especially around the New Year, but much harder to keep. Maybe you have pledged to get a better attitude, lose some weight, or work on your relationship with a significant other. A couple of weeks into 2016, however, things might not be looking so good. Now you could beat yourself up about not meeting your goal, but maybe it is time to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective.

Here’s a radical idea: maybe failure isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, failure might be the best way to succeed, the kick-start you need to find true love, the cornerstone of scientific progress and the best thing about competitive sports. Don’t take my word for it though, check out these books from your local library and see for yourself.

Failure, the Key to Success

Alright, let’s face it, you have failed at something. As the experts say, admitting the problem is half the solution. Also, take a look at these three books to gain some perspective and move forward.

F1

Very Good Lives: the Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling
Failure is not a term you would normally associate with the creator of Harry Potter, but it has been a key component of Rowling’s life and success. Learn all about it in this commencement speech she gave at Harvard University.

Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better by Pema Chödrön
Another commencement speech, this time given at Naropa University, that stresses the importance of failure as the way to becoming a complete and fulfilled human being. In addition to being a prolific author, Chödrön is also a Buddhist nun and resident teacher at Gampo Abbey Monastery in Nova Scotia.

Black Box Thinking: Why Some People Never Learn from their Mistakes–but Some Do by Matthew Syed
For Syed, failure is inevitable for everyone at some point. The problem comes when mistakes aren’t acknowledged and people refuse to examine their failure and learn from it. Much like the black box of a commercial aircraft, the data needs to be analyzed to find out what went wrong when a failure occurs.

Burning Love

Things don’t always work out. Happily ever after can be a long time coming. While you wait, take a look at these books to help you cope with a failed relationship.

F2

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright.
While a relationship crashing and burning is never a pretty sight, Wright points out that there is always a historical example of something far worse. Each chapter title pairs a specific romantic blunder with an appropriate historical example such as “If you have just sent your ex a very intense emotional email, Read about Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron.”

Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Ever After by Katherine Woodward Thomas
If you want to take the high road when it comes to a breakup, this is the book for you. Promising to show you how to ‘break up in a whole new way’, Thomas advises both parties to avoid bitterness and anger and focus on what was positive in the former relationship.

Dump ’em: How to Break up with Anyone from your Best Friend to your Hairdresser by Jodyne Speyer
Sometimes you have to be the one to end things. Not an easy task, but this book has got you covered. Chock full of personal stories, useful scripts and interviews with experts, Speyer’s book will show you how to break up with almost anyone.

Blinded with Science

The discipline that brought you successes such as medicine, technology and a way of building knowledge about the universe is fueled by a surprising concept: failure. Take a look at these books to find out why.

F3

Failure: Why Science Is So Successful by Stuart Firestein
The image of an infallible truth-dispensing scientist in a white lab coat is an illusion, argues Firestein. Instead science is a process of trial and error that produces many failures. These failures are crucial in producing an ultimate success.

Brilliant Blunders: from Darwin to Einstein–Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists that Changed our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Mario Livio
It is not only the humble that make mistakes, many of the scientific greats did as well. Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, and Albert Einstein all made significant blunders on their way to genius status. Clearly there is hope for all of us.

Discarded Science: Ideas that Seemed Good at the Time by John Grant
This book is a true rogue’s gallery of failed ideas and bogus theories that were once deemed plausible. From the flat earth theory to phrenology, every dubious theory that was once thought of as ‘scientific’ is examined and explored.

The Agony of Defeat

I’ve never been much of a sports fan, but I have always had a soft spot for teams, and the fans who support them, that almost never seem to win. Call it the nobility of continual failure. Here are three examples.

F4

Shipwrecked: a Peoples’ History of the Seattle Mariners by Jon Wells
Since the team rarely finishes a season above .500, Mariners fans are a long-suffering, but in my view, admirable bunch. Learn all about their trials and travails in this colorful history of the team. The author has been covering the Mariners for over 15 years and has his own theories of why the team can never seem to win.

We Believe [DVD]
The Chicago Cubs are arguably the original sports team that never seems to catch a break. This DVD, narrated by Gary Sinise no less, documents the few ups and many downs of the team and its fans. You know there will be a clip of Harry Caray, preferably after having a few beers after the seventh inning stretch, singing ‘take me out to the ball game’.

Green Bay Packers: Trials, Triumphs, and Tradition by William Povletich.
I know the Packers currently are far from being failures, but when I lived in Title Town (the late 70s and 80s) they, quite frankly, sucked most of the time. It was hard not to have a grudging admiration for the fans who stuck with them through all those fallow years. Interestingly, the team starting doing really well once I left. Coincidence? I think not.

So clearly, as all of these materials demonstrate, you have no reason to feel bad about any recent failures that might have come your way. As always, the EPL has got your back.

When Life Gives You Lemons

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

lemonWhen I think of this quote, it is spoken in the voice of a dear friend who has suffered the loss of a marriage, the pain of adult children with drug and mental health issues, physical disabilities, and recently the loss of her mother and the subsequent rejection of her elderly father. She holds to the attitude ‘when life offers lemons, make lemonade.’ Her strength and faith inspire me and bring to mind one of my favorite inspirational author’s, Anne Lamott.

lemonadeMs. Lamott needs little introduction, but I didn’t discover her writing until a few years ago. I like the grittiness with which Lamott writes and her ability to dial in on the subjects of life, death, grace, hope, and prayer. She doesn’t claim to know “all the answers or even that much about God,” yet she somehow manages to strike a chord of truth. In a world where there exists a myriad of belief systems, Lamott is able to tap into the things that tether us together in our humanness: feelings of pain, sorrow, excitement, and joy. Whether you’re inspired by a beautiful sunrise, an unexpected blessing, or the written word, you will find a few touch points in one of these three books.

helpthankswowIn Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Lamott describes ‘Help’ as the prayer when hope seems hopeless: the admission we’re stuck, can’t fix it, throwing up our white surrender flag. She concludes this may be the miracle in itself; realizing you’re lost, but that in surrendering you’ve won… which may lead you to give ‘thanks.’ ‘Thanks’ prayers, Lamott continues, may be as simple as the relief and gratitude of dodging a bullet, and the ‘Wow’ prayers she sums up can be spring. Spring being hope, beauty and glory all wrapped up to awaken our winter dulled senses to new life.

stichesIn her book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair she describes the book as “a patchwork of moments, memories, connections and stories.” Drawing from her personal life, she poses the question: how do you make sense out of the curve balls life throws. She echoes the cry of many by asking the tough questions, questions that arise as we go through life. Lamott writes with an openness and transparency providing insight by illustrating our humanity.

smallvictoriesLamott’s latest inspirational book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace is summarized this way: the author offers a new message of hope that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness… Our victories over hardship and pain may seem small (she writes) but they change us. Lamott writes of forgiveness, restoration, and transformation and how we can turn to love even in the most hopeless situations. Theology aside, Anne Lamott speaks the language of the heart which is hard to deny. It is why I’ve come to respect this author.

I read for pleasure, for knowledge, and for inspiration. Anne Lamott is just one of many inspiring and encouraging authors that I read. The library has been a great resource for meeting my need to be encouraged and helped along the way.

Ghosts in the Shelf

Voodoo Hoodoo SpellbookAs librarians, we love it when our patrons get excited about the materials we purchase for them. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a title we’ve ordered fly off the shelf and accumulate holds; it’s a good sign that we’re on the right track to knowing what our readers want. Occasionally there’s a downside to success: when we can’t keep a title on the shelf because people don’t want to return it. When titles go unreturned we charge the guilty party and replace the books right away, either with copies of the same book, or with something more updated. We often order multiple copies of replacement books to accommodate the obviously high level of interest. Over time, the librarians who buy books in different areas of our collection have come to notice specific titles and topics that go A.W.O.L. more frequently than others. Some may not be too shocking to some, while others may be a bit of a surprise. Here’s what our book selectors have to say about what some readers just can’t get enough of at the EPL:

Essential Bicycle Maintainance & RepairAccording to Richard, bicycle repair manuals often ride off into the sunset, and sex instruction books frequently go undercover.

Pat reports that books on growing and cultivating marijuana go up in smoke.

Alan frequently has to reorder rock star memoirs on addiction recovery.

Game of ThronesAndrea says that in the young adults section, books by Ellen Hopkins are frequent offenders. One disappearing nonfiction title that gave her a chuckle had something to do with being an ethical hacker.

In Zac’s area, he has to replace a lot of graphic novels. Some eternally-popular titles include Sin City Vol. 1, The Eye of the World, The Game of Thrones, Y: The Last Man, The Lucifer series, and Batman:The City of Owls.

Cover image from Numerology for your FamilyFor my part, books in the occult and new age areas (reading crystals, casting spells, astrology, etc.) can be an issue. Bibles, bible study books, and devotionals are often not returned. My favorite not returned title was a self-help book on impulse control. My guess is that the borrower really needed it.

Other problem areas include automotive repair, true crime, diet and medical advice, gardening and homesteading, herbalism, foraging, computers and technology how-tos, cookbooks, tattoo design, crafting, test prep, and home projects.

For the most part it seems like the materials that most frequently go unreturned at the EPL are items that people might need at their side for quick reference. There are a lot of manuals (hands-on or spiritual) for getting through day-to-day problems, or self-improvement. Occasionally these books make their way back to our shelves after long absences. One can only hope that this means the borrowers finally fixed whatever issues were plaguing them.

While we may find some humor in the variety of materials that our patrons can become overly-attached to, missing items can be a serious problem if left unchecked. Library staff constantly work at following up on long-overdue items to make sure that materials are where they need to be when our readers want to check them out. So to our loyal readers, if you happen to be sitting on a cache of late materials, be kind and get them back a.s.a.p so that someone else can enjoy them.

Self-Help and Humor or If I Told You Where the Self-Help Books Are, It Would Defeat the Purpose

Please prepare yourself. I’m going to blow your mind: we at the library love to read. We read everything from fiction to biographies to cookbooks and history. So it should really come as no surprise that we love to talk about books just as much, if not more, than actually reading them.

Occasionally we’ll have a staff meeting focused solely on discussing one type of book. What did we like? What did we not like so much? What’s popular in our community?

This past week we discussed self-help books. In addition to facilitating our discussion, Marge prepared a list of 50 authors to know in the self-help world. She also shared an article by Daniel Lefferts with an overview of the top self-help books to take into 2013.

           

In preparation for this discussion we were asked to think about what self-help books we’d recommend to others. Turns out I don’t really read many of them now, although according to GoodReads I have rated a lot of them in the past. I wondered why this might be. What do I do, in my 30s, that I didn’t in my 20s when I read all those self-help books? The answer slowly appeared, as if from a magic 8 ball: I’m way into stand-up comedy.

That’s right: I worship at the altar of hilarity, where the main dogma is, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Feeling down? Try a stand-up routine! I guarantee it won’t solve the underlying problem you’re currently moping over, but it will lift your spirits and maybe even give you the confidence to face your problem head-on.

My husband, Chris, and I decided this would be the year we’d go out and see some of our favorite comedians up-close and personal. Would the real-life experience stack up to the edited versions we’d heard on CDs, podcasts, and on TV? Turns out that, like most fascinating things you see on TV, the reality is just bigger and more satisfying in person.

Our favorite show so far this year has been finally getting to see Jim Gaffigan. Jim was at the Paramount back in July and we had front-row seats and got to meet him after the show. In case you weren’t aware, his persona centers on the fact that he is very pale. One of my favorite albums is Beyond the Pale, and he co-starred with Conan O’Brien in an animated short series called Pale Force, where their paleness is over-exaggerated for comedic effect. That paleness is also the source of their superpowers.

Anyway, after the show as Jim reached out his arm to shake my hand, he smiled and said, somewhat gleefully, “Oh, you’re pale, like me!”

Day. Made.

All the way to Seattle, and walking to the theater, I had made sure to impress upon Chris that I was going to ask Jim if we could pose in a photo with all of our arms turned out to show how pale we all are. When the time came for us to take a photo, I mentioned my idea, that I would love it if we could all three stick out our arms, etc. etc. This is exactly what he said:

“Oh now, I think I win. And…I didn’t want to win.”

Well we did a visual recount and I think you’ll agree that I am actually the victor. And to the victor, goes the sunscreen. He then asked to take a photo with our faces so we could remember who the palest was.

Gaffigan ArmsGaffigan GroupI didn’t solve any of my problems that night, but I did have a great experience and an amazing time with my husband. We made some memories and laughed until we cried. That kind of emotional release can, I propose, be even more helpful than reading a detailed book about how to organize your life, or lose weight. And let’s be honest: it takes much less time to watch or listen to stand-up than it would take to read the latest self-help tome.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Try some of the comedy your library has to offer. I suggest the following: take two stand-up routines and call me in the morning.

Carol