They know me too well

I had a fairly momentous birthday this month, which led to these wonderful sights:

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Flowers (delivered!), a giant pile of packages at the breakfast table, scrambled eggs for breakfast, and, on the left, a knitting-themed card and the latest installment in the series of book look-alike gifts from an enthusiastic user of the Royal Mail. Yes, folks, that is a box of hazelnut Bacio chocolates in a tin that looks like an early 20th-century Italian novel! Happy Birthday to me!

Home again, home again

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(thanks, Willy St. Co-op Facebook feed, for this cartoon)

3 things that are making me happy these days (besides the summer produce taking over my fridge) . . .

1. Returning to my home library, and the “place hold” button
After a fairly monogamous summer vacation, reading-wise, of devouring A Suitable Boy, I had lots of fun picking out my reading matter for the rest of August, using that ever-so-satisfying (and economical too!) “place hold” button. On hold, or already borrowed right now, are

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Ruby Programming for the Absolute Beginner, Jerry Lee Ford
Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking, by Fuchsia Dunlop
Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province, by Fuchsia Dunlop
Head First Excel, by Michael Milton
“Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, by Fuchsia Dunlop
Are You My Mother, by Alison Bechdel
Head First PHP and MySQL
Canada, by Richard Ford
Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs

(I’ve linked these to WorldCat so you can see if they are your local library – just enter your location at the top of the results list to find the copies nearest you)

2. Friends working on cool projects
A friend of mine just made me aware of an interesting project she’s working on: Marine Lives . The project team will be transcribing 17th century documents about life at sea from the High Court of Admiralty in the UK, which tell us, among other things, just what to do with a drunken sailor. I find this type of project really interesting: it appeals to both the “treasure hunter aspect” of my intellectual interests and to my desire to engage in certain kinds of more repetitive work. Transcribing, like making bibliographies, or coding html pages, or even taking notes, casts me into a satisfying trance-like state of focused relaxation, much like knitting does. If you want to know more about these kind of projects, I recommend this article on Galazy Zoo and the New Dawn of Citizen Science, which appeared in The Observer earlier this year.

Pssst, Marine Lives is looking for volunteers to start training next week for 50 hours of transcribing documents and learning about 17th century seafaring! Anyone interested in history can do it, from Grade 12 students on up!

3. Speaking of trance-like knitting

I’m also excited to be making some plans for knitting for the fall, as, if you can’t tell from my reading list, I’ve got quite a bit of free time and I can’t spend all of it learning new computer skills and cooking Chinese food! In addition to knitting several pairs of baby booties for the offspring of friends and family (these ones? or these ones?), I think I might jump on the short-row stripes bandwagon and attempt a Stripe Study Shawl, using some lovely red and cream yarn my parents brought me back from Copenhagen (oooh la la!), or, I’ll try and get better at doing cables and make a Sagano Shawl using some firecracker-coloured sock yarn I got recently in a swap.

(PS, do my non-knitting readers find, like my husband, that when I talk about knitting all you hear is the sound that the adults made in the Peanuts cartoons?)

A book, or just a thicker magazine?

When it’s hot outside, and my brain needs some rest, I sometimes think I need to read a magazine. And often I do – a few weeks ago, for example, I read the May 21st issue of the New Yorker, which was particularly jam-packed. I was especially fascinated and touched by the story in that issue about the career and death of the Kenyan Marathon runner Samuel Wanjiru.

But often, I have to say, I don’t find magazines very satisfying. Too many ads, too few articles, too much of same-old, same-old. Although I have to say that I almost always buy the Oprah Magazine before going on long trips, I am getting sick and tired of being told by Dr. Oz how anti-oxidants will change my life, and Oprah’s mixed messages are annoying: am I supposed to be content with what I have, or am I supposed to buy more stuff?

(Note to self: I should probably read Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk)

So, what to do when you’re too hot and tired to read anything longer than 20 pages, but you can’t stand to buy a magazine? Short stories work for some (and I can recommend The Penguin Book of Summer Stories as a start). But this weekend, I read non-fiction instead: A.J. Jacobs’ Guinea Pig Diaries, which is a compilation of humorous essays about various experiments the author has tried on himself. The experiments include

  • being as rational as possible for a month (which Jacobs defines as avoiding cognitive biases)
  • acting like George Washington for a month (by following the list of 110 Rules of Civility, compiled by Jesuit instructors, on which Washington was known to model his behavior
  • outsourcing tasks in both his personal and professional life to two women working for companies in Bangalore (Jacobs  notes that his article on the subject preceded the enormous popularity of the 4-Hour Workweek craze
  • posing nude for a magazine
  • doing everything his wife desires for one month
  • “living as a woman” – or so the book cover claims
  • uni-tasking for one month, while musing on Nicholas Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

Of all of these tasks (and I’m sure I’ve missed a few), the only one which failed to either make me laugh and think a little (mainly because I was too annoyed) was Jacobs’ quest to “live like a woman.” This is misleading – Jacobs simply spent a month collaborating with his single, 27-year old babysitter (who, he reminds us repeatedly in a way that even he acknowledges might be a little creepy, is very attractive) in her quest to find a boyfriend through online dating. Sorry, A.J., or more likely, A.J.’s publisher, if all that “living like a woman” entails is a stream of mild rejection, some embarrassment and a whole lot of complimentary emails from men, sign me up. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Jacobs does get into a few more of these complications, in fact, in the essay for which he did everything his wife desired for a month. He acknowledges (as does his wife, in an interesting coda), that the most eye-opening moment of this experiment came when the couple sat down, and Jacobs’ wife simply wrote down every household task she completed every week. Surprise! She was working the second shift. As a person who is lucky enough to read reference books and talk about information behavior for a living, I also found Jacobs’ chapter on multitasking, or the avoidance thereof, to be both funny and extremely interesting. Mostly, though, it just made me feel incredibly focused. I don’t, for example

  • watch TV while eating dinner
  • listen to the radio in the shower
  • do anything except knit or surf the web while talking on the phone (my husband and I, to the shock of some of our friends, own a landline phone, just one, that plugs into the wall, without a portable handset, as our primary phone, and rarely use our (one) cellphone)

That being said, I could connect to, and laugh at, Jacobs’ essay on multitasking because I have struggled with focusing my attention and with decisions about where work begins and “not-work” begins (I am, after all, a librarian writing a book blog “for fun”). The themes examined in all of these essays, whether superficially or occasionally a little more deeply, are ones that will interest most readers: how do I work? how do I relate to my family? how do I treat my spouse? what makes me unique? how do I feel about my body? am I a good parent? how do I think? how do I present myself to the world?*

Some might claim that this book is disjointed; the quality of the essays is certainly uneven. But for the price of 3 magazines (or none, if you get this book from the library!), you’ll get a satisfying reading experience. I should say, though, that if you haven’t read anything by A.J. Jacobs, I wouldn’t start with this book, and I would opt instead for The Year of Living Biblically, which, to my mind, is a much better book, because it allows Jacobs to explore one particular experiment (to follow biblical rules strictly for one year) at much greater depth, with deeper research and a more interesting personal transformation.

*(tip: George Washington presented himself to the world with his shapely right foot and calf extended, and never, never, never, wiped his nose on the tablecloth)

Four diversions for a sunny Wednesday

It’s the end of the semester! That means that I get to spend more time here:

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and here:

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and here:

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and, lest you think that I spend all my time in wholesome outdoor activities, it also means that I get to spend more time poking around the internet. Four recent favorites:

Do I have room for one more nerdy t-shirt?

bookish t-shirt

SMBC — Bookish shirt.

There’s always time to admire great authors with enormous teddy bears:

ernest hemingway with a giant teddy bear

Flavorwire » Extremely Silly Photos of Extremely Serious Writers.

and little girls in nice stockings checking out books from a librarian behind an enormous desk:

vintage photos of librarians

15 Vintage Photos of Librarians – Mental Floss.

Wait! What’s that you say? That there are more awesome old photos of librarians in the University of Wisconsin’s “Historic Librarians and Benefactors Digital Collection? Including a photo of Melvil Dewey (without beard) that’s worthy of inclusion in My Daguerrotype Boyfriend?

Excellent! Until the next post, I’ll leave you dreaming of a time when the American Library Association conference included a collegial boat trip from the Thousand Islands to Boston via Quebec and Halifax:

ALA expedition to Boston

(from here

Out of Print Clothing, or Reason #342 why I Love Being a Librarian

I love being a librarian because . . .

I can wear a Harold and the Purple Crayon t-shirt to work whenever I want, and what’s more, my students (future librarians all) will give me compliments!

Harold and the Purple Crayon t-shirt - Out of Print Clothing

My Harold and the Purple Crayon t-shirt is one of two t-shirts I own from the excellent Out of Print Clothing, a company based in Brooklyn that sells t-shirts, sweatshirts and accessories (think tote bags and ereader covers) emblazoned with book covers; sometimes the cover is of the first edition of the book, sometimes of a later cover with interesting design. They’ve recently expanded their line of t-shirts based on children’s books, hence my new Harold t-shirt. I first saw these shirts in an extremely out-of-the-way coffee shop in Ucluelet, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and bought my first shirt, The Origin of Species last fall. The shirts are well-made and they fit stylishly, unlike a lot of other librarian/book-themed garb – the fit is slimmer than my radical militant librarian t-shirt made by local Madisonian Maureen O’Grady, which also rocks.

Hmm, is Charlotte’s Web next on my list of acquisitions? Or perhaps, in light of Maurice Sendak’s recent death, it might be time for In the Night Kitchen. Perhaps I could wear it while listening, again, to Sendak’s beautiful, funny and sad interviews with Terry Gross on NPR over the years.

Oh, and before I forget, for each t-shirt bought, Out of Print donates one book to Books for Africa, an established charity that aims to alleviate the book famine in Africa.

PS This is not a sponsored review, at all. I just love these t-shirts.

For dinner guests who like maps

One of the running jokes among my friends, librarians and non-librarians alike, is that my dinner parties always degenerate (or advance?) into the same situation: all my friends are sitting on the couch, reading.

Often, they are reading a book about maps, and if so, it is likely to be either Strange Maps: an Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities by Frank Jacobs or
Transit Maps of the World, by Mark Ovenden. You should definitely check out these books if you’re the kind of person who owns a pillowcase adorned with the map of the London Underground, or if you chose books as a child (or as a teenager, or as an adult) based on whether they contained a detailed map of an imaginary country on their endpapers.

Or, indeed, if you are the kind of person, like me, who covets a handprinted modern map of the world for your living room, , even though you already own, as a household:

(OK, I admit it, we have a map problem. And no, we don’t plan to change).

What is it about these books that makes my guests abandon conversation and sit on my couch as if glued there by an invisible force, staring fascinatedly at pages?

Adults like picture books as much as kids. They like imagining other worlds, whether those are imaginary or simply far away. And a good map contains a phenomenal amount of information, that begs to be puzzled over, to be discovered, and discussed.

Also, our friends are big nerds, just like us. In the best possible way.

Eisenhower Interstate System

Schematic Map of the Eisenhower Interstate System, by Rebecca Brown, via Flickr Creative Commons Licence – This map appears on page 168 of Strange Maps