The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson – Book Review

I rarely read mysteries, and this book perfectly illustrates why – I could not put it down, I had to find out where it was going and what was really happening, and so it was interfering with my home and social life.  Mysteries end up removing my free will and ability to structure my own time, and The Child Garden had me completely engrossed.

I met Catriona McPherson at the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco.  She is a lovely woman, and signed my ARC and gave me a brief rundown of the book.  It is such a treat to meet authors, and McPherson was so personable I wanted to stick around her booth for much longer.  I wish I could recall what she told me about the Child Garden, but the feeling she gave me was enough to make this one the first ARC that I picked up when I returned.  I knew it would be creepy, dark, and a bit of a puzzle.

Told in a distinct voice, by an overly reliable narrator – she strikes me as the sort of person who has always done the right thing, despite the consequences.  An avid reader who has devoted her life to her disabled son, Gloria is by chance reunited with an old classmate and quickly becomes a fugitive-hiding, murder-solving, story-debunking powerhouse, disguised as a door-to-door missionary.  This book is funny and sweet and a joy to read for anyone who’s ever been told that life is not really the way it happens in books, who loves another human being more than they ever thought possible, or who has enough time on their hands to finish a book in one sitting, because that is exactly what you’ll want to do with this one.

Why We Work by Barry Schwartz – Book Review

This is the book I can’t stop talking about, and can’t stop recommending.  If you haven’t read it, read it now.  It’s short.  This is the book that will get you out of a career slump or burnout.  This is the book that will make you remember why you love going to work.  This is the book that will help you find meaning in any activity, no matter how menial it seems.  I read it on my way to the ALA Annual Conference, and I managed to bring it up in conversation several times a day.  I can’t wait to re-read it, and I can’t wait to own my own copy.

Why We Work is a thought-provoking exploration of the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that drive going to work and doing a good job.  References and ties together many excellent works about learning, thinking, and working.  An excellent overview of several concepts which I had not thought to tie together but which influence the psychology of being at work and the desire to do a good job.  I found Schwartz’s distinction between job, career, and calling to be both revelatory and easy to understand.  This book offers some tools and individual can use to improve how they think about their own work, and ways to enjoy work more, but the real critique is aimed at how we as members of society or as business managers think. The way we frame how we think about work in general can trickle down through our whole work experience, and the wrong frame or motivations can poison the whole well.

I will definitely be seeking out more TED books.

Things I’ve Said to My Children by Nathan Ripperger – Book Review

Hilarious, on point, and very fun. I won’t make my review longer than the book, which is short and colorfully illustrated. I had no idea prior to having children that the things they say are so hilariously weird, and I wouldn’t have believed it without hearing it from my own offspring. Hearing ridiculous things from my own children, and coming across situations I wish I could remove from my memory makes crazy things come out of my own mouth – and I found a lot in this book to identify with. Ripperger has more children than I, and therefore that many more opportunities to say completely ridiculous things, but I have personally heard many of these lines from my own mouth…and I think they are much more hilarious when removed from the context and illustrated by someone else. I will not spoil any of the lines by inclusion in this review – just know that if you’ve found yourself saying things that sound crazy, and thought – I should be writing this stuff down – Nathan Ripperger beat you to it.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae – Book Review

I’ve put off writing this review for far too long – because I did and didn’t love this book, and I’ve been struggling to put that into words.

I really enjoy reading books/memoirs/essays by funny people, especially women.  I’ve loved Bossypants, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, and Yes, Please!  I read The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Jo-Issa Rae Diop through NetGalley, anticipating that it would be along those lines, and it was.  The tricky part is that I was not previously familiar with Issa Rae’s work, so I didn’t read it to myself in her voice, and I probably missed out for that.  However, now I’ve heard of her, and that’s a good thing.

I was uncomfortable at times, but it felt really good to have my perspective stretched – when I was rendered most awkward (perhaps it was all part of her plan!!) was when I was reading some of her stories that were farthest from my own experiences.  The ABG Guides, especially Types of Black People and Connecting with Other Blacks did not resonate for me and seemed out of place, but I might not be the target audience.

However, awkward crosses those racial lines, and while no one has ever expected me to be a great dancer, I found a lot to identify with and laugh about.  I most enjoyed the stories about her life, and she really captures some of the most awkward phases of growing up very well.  She nails being introverted, female, overweight, and awkward, but she also seems so cool now that I almost have my doubts that she was as awkward as she portrays.  I longed for a more coherent story arc through the book, however, as the essays skip around and don’t build to any real conclusions.  Issa Rae’s writing was conversational and easy to read, but sometimes repetitive and disorganized.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading strong, funny women – I don’t think Issa Rae has as strong a voice yet as Tina Fey or Amy Poehler, but I think she’s on her way.

Book Reviews!

As a librarian, I’m privileged to be a member of NetGalley, which allows me to download and review advanced reader copies of books not yet published. Lucky Me! I’m also starting to get back into reading more frequently, so I just managed to finally read the first two titles I downloaded from NetGalley. They seem to have been already published…but I went ahead and reviewed them anyhow. Better late than never.

Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book, so please feel free to point out (in your kindest voice) how I could be doing this better, because while it was really fun to read these books with the knowledge that I’d need to review them at the end, I also feel like there is always room for improvement. Thanks for your help!

Without further ado:
Girls Like Us, by Gail Giles
Regardless of our race, wealth, or intellectual speed, we all sometimes need some help learning how to relate to others. This book offers a special window into the minds of two girls trying to find their way in the world, and turns the mirror on the reader and their assumptions about how others think and feel, and how to relate without being unintentionally hurtful or condescending. This book deals with some truly awful topics with compassion and clarity, and reminds the reader that we all have value in this world, whether we realize it or not.

Percolate: Let Your Best Self Filter Through, by Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino
Percolate is more fun than your average self-help book. With its light, conversational tone and abundant but not overwhelming coffee metaphors, it reads like a good long talk with a friend. Messages of strength, resilience, and positive attitude are powerful for anyone who needs a boost, but those who are going through a serious illness in their family or other domestic trauma will find much here to relate to and draw from.

Avoiding the “Toxic Middle”

I read an article today about librarians (and I’m sure this is not unique to our profession) who are the jaded voice of been-there, done-that pessimism and anti-innovation.  The Toxic Middle by Joseph Janes, a Library Science professor, was an interesting one for me.  I have certainly come up against these “wet blanket” librarians in my short tenure in the profession, and I’d like to think that most of them really truly meant well when they brought their cynical and jaded opinions to the table.  I went to a workshop at the ALA Conference that put a snappy acronym to something that I’ve been working hard to embrace – QTIP: Quit Taking It Personally.  When I meet “wet blankets,” I try to just hear the useful advice buried within their crabby comments, and not take the idea heckling personally.

What got me thinking when I read this article though, is that we all do this.  Here’s the thing: it’s hard to know when your past experience is relevant and useful, and when it’s just coloring your perception to the point that you don’t see possibilities and opportunities.  Sometimes what you know about a situation, a patron, a plan of action is really useful – the way things have been done in the past might really smooth the future path, might help you be more empathetic and accepting of a person’s behavior, or might help you avoid pitfalls, time sucks, and wasted energy.  Sometimes though, the information you have in your head about how it went down last time might stop you from seeing possibilities.  At what point does the past experience you bring to the table shift from being valuable to being a liability?  There isn’t a clear line there, and it’s hard to know when you’ve crossed it.

I don’t think this cautionary tale should be aimed solely at older, established librarians – it’s really just a good reminder to all of us that regardless of where we are in our career, we are all bringing something valuable to the table.  I have been lucky enough to be mentored by some truly inspiring librarians, and I hope to be able to pay that forward at some point in my career.  I’ve also been very lucky to be taken seriously, listened to, and supported quite actively by those around me.  I really can’t complain about toxic middle layers in my personal experience, but it’s worth a reminder that I don’t want to find myself in the position of knocking someone’s experience or ideas just because something in my past experience sours my perception.