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.

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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.

Upcoming Reading List

I feel like I take as much pleasure in the anticipation of reading as I do in the finishing of books – which is a good thing because I start more books than I finish, and I bring home more books than I start.  I bring home an awful lot of books.

I’m still reading Inferno, and still feeling more or less the same about it.  However, I’m almost done, and I have some contenders for the sweet spot on my nightstand.

The frontrunner is a fairly new book by a fairly young author: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.  I read a really great review of the book at some point in the last two months, and promptly misplaced the review.  I don’t want to read too much else about it for fear of changing my mind about reading it, so I think I’m going to just dive right in.  It’s outside of my usual genre, so I’m just going to go for it.

Because I can never be reading just one book (I try and keep it to under 5 – but I’m not big on rules, and I break that one all the time), and I like to simultaneously read both fiction and nonfiction, I just picked up Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton.  People whose taste I admire love Alain de Botton, and I confess to having checked out more books of his than I’ve finished.  The bigger life questions have been at the forefront of my mind these last few months, so this title jumped out at me this morning and I’m going to give it a try.  I don’t read enough essays (unless you count humorous or parenting essays, which seem to be all I read lately).  So, this is my educational/intellectual reading for the month.

I’m also bringing home This I Believe: On Motherhood.  I am working up to gathering my thoughts on being a mother.  It is my favorite thing that I’ve done with my life, a huge challenge, and something that I rarely feel up to.  I love reading about parenting, and mothering, and all the paradoxes that we all feel, but which are very hard to talk about.  It is lovely to read sentiments which I feel but bungle when I try to express them.

What are you reading?  What should I add to my list?

Battling Inertia

I bared my soul about writing just the other day.  Writing is something that I’m trying to build back into my life, for many many reasons, but it’s feeling very hard.  I sit down here, and think “What do I have to say today? Nothing.”  I feel the same blankness that I feel when someone first asks me for a good book recommendation – as though I’ve never read a good book in my life.  But because I get asked all the time for book recommendations, I’ve learned to push past that blank brain and start making connections between the person in front of me and our collection.

I recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which was absolutely fascinating, and a must-read if you like having interesting things to tell people that take 10 seconds or less to explain.  One of the (many many many) things that surprised me is that food diaries work in part because they change a habit.  They make a critical change that creates room for new habits, and it’s not necessarily even about not wanting to eat something because you’ll have to write it down and admit to eating it.  It’s about creating a new habit, which creates room for more new habits.  Sometimes the habit change process needs to be sneaky, rather than obvious.

So I’m posting here every day, and it’s a little like that food diary.  What I’m putting in this space is less relevant than that I’m putting that space in my day for writing.  Making room for a new habit that I’d like to stick.  How do you change habits, get out of ruts, and make time in your day for the things that really matter?

Reading and knitting, and the dangers thereof

The weather is turning chilly – sunny, warmish days and cold nights make for my favorite time of year – and naturally my urge to read increases along with my urge to drink hot beverages and curl up under blankets.  I’m not sure that I actually read more in the fall and winter, but I certainly crave book time more.  I’m not a prodigious reader, but I do alright considering that I work full time and have two children under 3.  I aim for a book a week these days, but I’ve only made it through 34 books this year, which is four behind schedule for those of you keeping track at home.

Right now, I’m reading Inferno by Dan Brown.  I usually love Dan Brown’s books, because they are fast-paced, I learn some new things, and they have interesting locations.  I read The Lost Symbol before a recent trip to Washington, and it was a nice and readable intro to the city.  However, and I’m sure you could tell there was a but coming, I’m not loving Inferno yet.  I find the amnesia device to be off-putting.  I love the crazy connections Langdon makes between events and sources and symbols, and the amnesia is robbing the book of that completely fun intellect.  So, I’m about halfway through, and I am going to finish it (and enjoy it – I’ve read worse for sure), but I don’t see myself enjoying this one as much as previous Dan Brown books.

The chilly weather is also bringing on a strong urge to knit.  I’ve been looking through stacks of knitting books lately – every time I head to the library there is a small stack on the reserve shelf waiting for me.  Lucky for me, one of the librarians has caught on to me and diverted a new book to my reserve pile for me the other day!  I’m working on a handful of new projects, and I’m sure I’ll be able to take some good photos any day now.

In other news, I’ve been selected for jury duty, and report at the end of the month for the selection process.  This will be my first time at the courthouse in any capacity, and I’ve heard jurors gain a great understanding of the judicial system.  My first thought when I got the letter was excitement that I might be able to get a head start on Christmas knitting, but when I flipped it over for the instructions, I found that knitting needles are specifically disallowed because of their potential to be used as weapons.  How interesting that you can bring knitting on an airplane, but not to the courthouse waiting room.  I will have to use knowledge as my weapon, and pack a book.  It might be a good time to read Dante’s Inferno 🙂

Welcome, New Year!

Merry Christmas from the Santa BananaIt’s a happy, snowy new year at the Flanagan household.  We rang in the new year last night with some friends at a low-key party with a pajama dress code,  a movie lineup that included Airplane and Blues Brothers, and a menu that inlcuded baked brie and eggplant parm.  If there is a better way to start a year, I don’t want to know about it, because I just had a wonderful time.

I think for many people, this past decade has not been their best, but for me, it’s been a pretty seminal decade – my entire adult life so far happened in the last 10 years.  I went to college and graduate school, I met the love of my life and got married, I found a career path and got a great job, I’ve made a lot of good friends and have divested myself of many unhealthy relationships, we bought a house and adopted two wonderful cats, and I’ve discovered many passions, including cooking, knitting, and homebrewing.  I’ve been very lucky this decade, and I have great expectations for the next.

View from my back door!This past year my parents bought the house right behind ours.  This photo is the view from my back door – it’s snowing out, so it’s not the crispest.  It’s nice to know they are up there.  This morning they came down to help us with our snowblower, and it’s nice to know we can help them out going forward, making sure they don’t work too hard mowing their lawn or shoveling their driveway.  Having a close support network is important to me, and I think the value to our family of close proximity is impossible to forecast, but I look forward to taking care of my parents as they age, having my children really know their grandparents as people, and being able to pool resources, among other benefits.

This next year holds a lot for me.  Most majorly, I’m chairing the committee to plan the Maine Library Association Annual Conference, which this year will be held in October at the Samoset.  That will be a major professional challenge, and I’m looking forward to devoting more and more time to it as the date approaches.  I think it’s going to feel very good to have that under my belt, and I hope to prove myself worthy of the trust that’s been placed in me.

One of my goals for the coming year is to articulate my opinions on books and beer.  I have been a member of goodreads for a couple of years, and have enjoyed rating books, keeping track of books I want to read, and seeing what my friends are reading.  In 2010, I want to start reviewing the books I read.  In 2009, I read 79 books – in 2010 I’d like to read 80 and review each one.  This evening should be a good one for reading.  I also joined Beer Advocate, and I reviewd my first beer this afternoon.  Jim and I seek out interesting and delicious beers, but I have made no effort to keep track of what we have.  Reviewing some of these great brews will not only help me remember what we try, but should go a long way toward refining my ability to describe beer and identify flavors.  Many of the other goals I have for this year are more personal, but if I keep up with the blog like I always mean to, I will share more as the year goes by.  I would like to start using this blog as a means of personal expression and as a way to keep in touch with friends who are near and far.  Reconnect and reflect are my among my blog goals.