Month: February 2013

26 Feb 2013

a plague upon your house

So I have been sick for a few days. Actually, I have been sick for most of 2013. I was well for a week or so earlier in the month, but who can really tell. Memories are fleeting; coughs, persistent.

There is probably nothing less interesting than reading about someone’s physical maladies, especially when they are stricken with the commonest of colds, but I just really can’t do much of anything beyond the basics: haul myself out of bed, haul myself to work, pour coffee in, leave piles of stuff all over the couch. I can’t even read, really: my eyes get a little blurry after a few minutes. I’m using that excuse for why I can’t put my laundry away, too: I can barely see my dresser drawers.

I’m not even that sick, but I think the virus has gone directly to my brain. My neurons are slow. I’m not sleeping well. Someone I share a bedroom with is snoring. Someone else I share a bedroom with woke me up last night at 2 a.m. with ten consecutive kitty sneezes. It’s just a sad sneezy time over here. I might need a minute to recover. Read amongst yourselves.

26 Feb 2013

these books

That thing where you are recovering from a busy trip out of town, an illness, your work inbox after you come back from vacation days and sick days, and you find yourself checking out a book you just read not six months ago, a book you’ve already read twice now, a book you don’t even entirely think you believe in.

And then you realize you have a comfort book. Probably more than one. Maybe they have something in common – an author, a genre, a time of your life when you first discovered them. A time when you were discovering many things about the world and your place in it, a time when your head felt cracked open and everything you read poured right inside. Maybe there’s something about the words and how they sound in your head as you read them, even if the cadence is a cross between a fairy distant memoir and an academic paper. Pop psychology. Lady memoir. Women making changes in their lives and the world, sharing their stories with you in a way that says “you can do this too.”

When you are well, you’ll go somewhere else: to your teetering to-read stack, to a book you read in grade school, or a dippy romance you’ve read a dozen times, or maybe something shinier, newer, with complex ideas and sentence structure, written for grown-ups even. These books will be there when you are well. For now, you can just read and re-read and re-read your re-reads.

Oh, these books.

25 Feb 2013

ten movies

Operation: Watch! More! Movies! has been fun. I got The Boy in on it, and now once every week or so he’s all “so, want to watch a movie?” and then there is movie snacking and couch cuddling and other such enjoyable evening activities. A Saturday Morning Movie, before anyone else in the apartment is awake, is also recommended. Here is some of what has been watched in 2013:

Old School Comedies

Planes, Trains and Automobiles reminded me of how much I love Steve Martin.

I think my dad has told me a few hundred times that Trading Places was one of the funniest and best movies ever, and I can now say that I’ve seen it!

The Boy asked to watch The Producers, and then was slightly miffed that the original wasn’t a musical. Nine years of hanging out with me has its side effects.

One time, I showed Beetlejuice to a group of middle school students in a library and my jaw dropped at how offhandedly raunchy it was. And PG! So I obviously wanted to watch it again to make doubly sure that I am an awful librarian.

Ryan Gosling

Speaking of raunchy… yeah, that is the only reason I watched Blue Valentine.

Non-Old School Drama-Comedies

Did you hear 7 bajillion plugs for Sleepwalk With Me in 2012? I did! Thankfully, I liked it otherwise I would be indignant about all that hype. And we wouldn’t want that, right?

Non-Old School Drama-Comedies Starring Jason Segel

I found The Five Year Engagement to be exactly what I expected: a slightly off-center romantic comedy hinging mostly on Jason Segel’s ability to be charming. I was particularly charmed the Michigan location and how for awhile, the plot centered on how awful it was that Segel was turning into a Michigan-Mountain-Man.

Jeff Who Lives At Home was probably a better movie, and was less Segal-centered. Still nothing I would watch over again, but good Streaming-Netflix-Fun.

Serious Oscar Nominated Films

Um, yeah, the only Oscar Nom I could get my hands on at the library was The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists! I don’t think it will win (or will have won by the time I post this tomorrow morning…), but it was decently entertaining.

Sex, Drugs and Murder. And Cross-dressing.

I think we covered this one recently enough.


I meant to post this once I finished watching 10 movies, but I think I have actually already watched 20?? So what I’m trying to say is, I’m not even trying to live a productive, self-satisfied life anymore – I don’t write, I don’t do projects, I don’t exercise, I just watch movies. And acquire respiratory viruses. Which leads to more movies. And Breaking Bad. I’ll tell you about the other 20 movies another time. I need some DayQuil. The end.


24 Feb 2013

Alex Awards, 2013

I think this wraps up my gaggle of ALA awards posts for the season… I could keep going and talk about them all, of course, but limits are a good thing.

I have been enjoying looking back at last years winners and seeing which books I read, which ones are still on my radar. From last year’s Alex Awards, I didn’t read anything more than the book I’d already read, but everyone and their second cousin read Ready Player One and are still talking about it from time to time, I checked out The Night Circus three times without reading it, and I just put Salvage the Bones on my eReader.

One Shot at Forever by Chris Ballard

I have been thinking about high school sports lately, because wow, is there anything I don’t understand more than high school sports? I am the least sporty person alive. I played a few years of JV tennis while not being a sporty person and not really understanding high school sports. My brain-body coordination can’t be trusted. My ability to join in on a Team Mentality is lacking.

I could take all this and say “No, I should not read a book about a high school baseball team because I just won’t get it,” or I could say “I should read a book about a high school baseball team because I would like my brain to be more open to things the world seems to understand that I don’t.” That is the difference between an enlightened, wise reader and one who is not. I am not sure which reader I am.


My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

It has just recently come to my attention that I probably know more about serial killers than I do high school sports.

This is a graphic novel about Jeffrey Dahmer, created by someone who knew Dahmer as a teen. This sounds right up my alley, but I have heard some mixed reviews from my friends on Goodreads. I will probably check it out, though, because graphic novels are just SO easy to put on hold, so check-out-able.


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

One thing I like about the Alex Awards is that it reliably highlights some high-profile adult books from the year that have teen appeal. Secret YA books are all around us! Adults, even adults who purportedly hate YA, read them all the time! And put them on their Best Adult Books for Adults lists every year!

This book is a magical-realism, pseudo-fairytale about a crazy bookstore. I should probably read this post-haste.


Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Cut and paste first paragraph previous. This book got so much buzz in the Fall, and was written by an Arrested Development writer. Again, I post-haste.


Pure by Julianna Baggott

I recognize the name “Julianna Baggott” because she has written adult books with teen appeal before. A cross-over author. Pure is a dystopia for adults… a cross-over genre. A cross-over cross-over.

Sounds intriguing, but I pretty much don’t read dystopias any more unless there is a gun to my head, so I will probably skip it.


Juvenile in Justice by Richard Ross

Out of this year’s Alex bunch, I’ve heard the most about this title. It is purported to be powerful – photography of juvenile detention facilities, collected over five years – but is not available through traditional book vendors, really. There aren’t even any new copies on Amazon! As someone who thinks a lot about how libraries build collections, relationships between publishers and vendors and libraries, and how awards shift publication practices, I’m interested to see how this one pans out. I, for one, would love to get my hands on it for my library.


Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

I’m going to ignore the contents of this book and focus on the cover, since I am an unashamed, unabashed book-cover-judger. Love good cover art. Love love love it.

This is a great cover, right? A bear. A silhouette. A teapot (?). Ribbons. Hand-lettering. Swirly swirls. Love it. I put it on hold months ago just because of the cover. I’m glad it seems to be getting some attention for it’s literary contents because otherwise that would be a fine cover wasted.


The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Alex Awards seem to have a steady relationship with the National Book Awards. Or, the National Book Awards have a strange favoritism for Secret YA Books. Or, Secret YA books are awesome and are universally loved.

Anyway, The Round House won the National Book Award, and here it is on the Alex List. I am number 44 in line on the hold list.


Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Any protagonist who is described as “the least likely of Girl Scouts” is a protagonist I’d like to meet. That is all.


Caring is Creepy by David Zimmerman

This book sounds like a completely frightening read – parents involved in drug deals, meeting strangers on the Internet, something that sounds like a teenage girl kidnapping a grown man… and I appreciate the title invoking the title of a Shins song that is probably the least frightening song in existence.


23 Feb 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

I have mentioned this book about a dozen times in the past year, so now that I have finally read it, I should probably write up a proper review.

Except for the part where I don’t think I can. Call it what you will: unwillingness to approach a book with an analytical, professional perspective, unwillingness to exert the effort, the respiratory virus I am currently hosting in my body, post-vacation-itis, my tendency toward the mush and the gush. I don’t want to. So I won’t.

What I will do is tell you this: in the first chapter, we meet Ari, who is likeable but shy, looking for his people but worried his people won’t like him, a little angry, a little scared. Then we meet Dante, who has a bit firmer grasp on his place in the world, but is used to being an outsider. They are both fifteen, and they become fast friends in a way that neither can quite understand.

By the end of the book Dante moves away and then comes back. We meet Ari’s mother and father, who both suffer from traumas past they don’t talk about. We meet the heavy absence of Ari’s brother who is in prison and no one will tell him why. We know Ari so well that we know something is always wrong, something deep down, is unsettled.

It is settled by the end, don’t worry.

Reading this book felt like a dream. Saenz is does realism right, let me tell you. It felt like I wasn’t reading, but just slipping into someone else’s life.

Just as beautiful and awesome as you’ve heard all this time, and completely deserving of that Printz silver medal (among other honors…) Hurry along and read it.

21 Feb 2013

all roads lead to YA lit – sex & drugs edition

My effort to watch more movies this year has flipped on a strange bit of radar in my head – my ears perk up for movies that flew under my radar, classics I haven’t watched since I was a child, movies that whatever sort of cult cache that I seem to revere. I listened to an interview with Seth Green – one of my middle school actor crushes (even though I was probably already taller than him at the age of 12) and he mentioned his friendship with Macaulay Culkin, and that the favorite film of his career was Party Monster. It was on Netflix. I watched it. For twenty minutes I was completely put off, then completely engrossed.

The movie is based on a book that is based on the lives of the two protagonists – James St. James and Michael Alig – as they romp around New York in the early 1990s with a gaggle of gender-bending, bizarrely dressed Club Kids behind them. It’s bizarre, it’s graphic, there are many drug overdoses and a few murders. It reminded me of In Cold Blood in the way that I wasn’t quite sure if I was watching a documentary or a fictionalization, or whether James and Michael were protagonists or villains.

Of course, I google the crap out of it once the movie’s over. After some time spent down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, I figured out why the name “James St. James” stuck so clearly in my head:

He wrote a fairly well-received YA book in 2007!

All the roads, they lead to YA. Although to be honest, if you set Freak Show and Disco Bloodbath/Party Monster in front of me, I would probably choose the latter. Blame it on Seth Green.

17 Feb 2013

Caldecott Awards, 2013


This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen is a very clever fellow and a talented artist with style that is quite en vogue – spare white backgrounds, simple figures and color schemes, etc. I personally liked the art/aesthetic in I Want My Hat Back better, but I think that’s just because there’s so much BLACK in This Is Not My Hat. It’s jarring. But I am glad to see Klassen get his due. Especially because I am on Team Candlewick.


Creepy Carrots! by Peter Brown and Aaron Reynolds

I haven’t had a chance to look at this book yet, but I definitely flagged it some time during the Fall as one of those books that I thought was uncommonly weird. I can dig uncommonly weird books getting major awards. I can.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

I love how simple and painterly this book is. A simple concept book that is beautiful and spare. Not even a concept book, really, just a book about green. Green! The concept of green. If you can make a book about green and rock it out, you can get a Caldecott Honor – fine by me.

One Cool Friend by David Small and Toni Buzzeo

Another one I haven’t read yet, but I worked for 2 years at a library in Western Michigan so David Small is a hometown hero. Woohoo!

Extra Yarn by Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett

This one, I like. A lot. And I’m not just saying that because I watched these two young men charm the pants off of a room of librarians. I’m saying that because it’s a book about knitting that is clever and colorful and lovely.

And also, I was one of those librarians.

Sleep Like a Tiger by Pamela Zagarenski and Mary Logue

Alright, I haven’t read this one either. I am bad at reading picturebooks. And also, this one got caught in our library-not-ordering log jam. I will judge a book by it’s cover and say that I would like it. It looks like the kind of art you might rip out of a book and frame to hang on the wall of your trendy child’s nursery.

15 Feb 2013

look out, jackson-town

Tomorrow, I leave for Jackson.

Isn’t it fun when there is a song that describes exactly what you are about to do with your life? Ask me about the time my sister and I took a train to Chicago and played Sufjan Stevens on our speakers, for the benefit of all of our fellow passengers. Actually, you don’t have to ask because that was pretty much it.

Speaking of my sister, my sister called me last night and said, “I wanted to tell you about this book I can’t put down. It’s called Seraphina.”

Speaking of my other sister, she is going to pick me up from the airport tomorrow!

Speaking of my other-other sister, there is probably nothing I love more than looking at her Tumblr.

I miss them. I missed Thanksgiving and Christmas and I haven’t been home since July. I’m going to read some books on the plane. I’m going to pretend like I’m not making a thousand wedding decisions that are currently wiring my jaw shut, or traveling by air, or that my trip isn’t desperately short, or that I’m leaving Peach here with minimal human interaction, or that I didn’t buy my sister a birthday gift yet, or that my review is not done, or that we didn’t do laundry because of the storm so I will be arriving in Michigan slightly smelly and throwing my suitcase directly into the wash.

None of that. Happy trip fun times! Sisters! Mommy! Daddy! Corgis! Vacation days! Plane books! I’m thinking Aristotle, Dante, and Brene Brown.

14 Feb 2013

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

As I think more about The Books That People Really Love, I keep thinking about fantasy. [Insert a few witty sentences about how I don’t really read fantasy here]. Not liking fantasy never felt like a strange thing until, of all places, grad school. My program was a haven for lovers of Tamora Pearce, Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Donna Jo Napoli – of Twilight, even, and of course, Harry Potter.

When I have that conversation about favorite books with my classmates, the titles they hold onto are those that reliably took them from here to another world.

Reading Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, I started to get it. The cover was the first step – you don’t see line art on YA books much anymore, even fantasies, much less landscapes. This is a book that has a place, a place you can see on the cover, that you will visit when you read.

This was not a book that I read easily. The prose is dense, sentences that you can tell were “crafted” and not just written. The plot is political and interpersonal, and with a large cast of characters with eccentric names, it was sometimes hard to follow. There are stories going on inside of an aristocracy, outside of an aristocracy, and an entire plotline that exists inside of Seraphina’s head – until maybe it doesn’t.

But the characters, especially Seraphina, were compelling, making me want to learn more about this strange place, about their lifestyles and politics. In Goredd, dragons and humans coexist, but only due to a tentative treaty that many believe should be revoked. Dragons are the arguably superior beings, gifted with more intellect, logic, and special skills, including the ability to take human form. Humans allow some dragons to live among them, but only if they wear a bell around their neck or contribute to society in some meaningful way. The political plots focus on these tensions between dragon and human, which have very obvious parallels to race and cultural relations in our world today; Hartman implies these connections with an expert’s subtle hand.

The personal plots focus on Seraphina, a half-dragon, half-human living as a human in a world where neither dragon nor human even acknowledge the biological possibility of such miscegenation. She’s undercover, but her combination of dragon and human skills make her a superb musician, so she gets a job in the castle and slowly gets involved with dragon-human politics.

Every time I picked up the book, I would read a few pages and feel a little internal sigh, a little “urgh,” a little “what’s going on in the Internet right now?”

But if I read for a minute or two more, then I was just in the book. Not really aware of the reading process, necessarily, not flipping pages because you’re impatient for a plot’s ending, not reading because the reading’s easy.

I just went somewhere else. And that, I think, is something you don’t easily forget.

13 Feb 2013

words we live by

“Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies.

It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.”

Austin Kleon – Steal Like an Artist