Friday, February 27, 2009

Book Review: Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton

Casting Spells
by Barbara Bretton

Mix a centuries old spell, a knitting store, and a murder. Shake well. Add in an extra squirt of knitting/yarn knowledge and a sprinkling of romance. Serve chilled.

Bretton offers up a pleasant mystery about a pleasant small tourist town where a number of magical/mystical creatures live. It's a town under the protective spell of a sorceress, where there is no crime and no police, and the only humans are tourists. Save Chloe--the yarn store owner. Chloe, last in the line of the sorceresses, is half-human and, insofar as powers are concerned, is all human.

The town is worried that with Chloe will die without child, which would break the protective spell over the area, and evidence of the spell fading comes sharply when a tourist dies. So Chloe has to figure out how to manage the cop (the good looking male romantic lead), renew the spell, and keep her best friend's mother from whisking the town off to Faery.

Did I mention there's knitting? Bretton shows much knitting awareness--referencing yarns and techniques that appeal to the more crafty among us, but not overwhelming to the point that someone not knitting-inclined wouldn't understand. It's an added bonus.

A fun short adventure, some interesting twists, and a happy ending.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Brain Break

Have I ever made you play Pass the Pigs with me? It's a relatively mindless game and while the lack of complexity sometimes is not good--often it's just enough to bring people together.

And then there's the online option where you can roll imaginary pigs from the comfort of your desk chair....rats, this could get addictive.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review: Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom

Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom

Assaulted as I am all day with non-fiction in the form of a feed aggregator, sitting down to read more in book format is often a challenge. This book held my attention.

Lindstrom describes himself as an expert on brands and branding. He approaches his question: why do we buy certain things? with an interesting blend of "the old way"--"the science" and a dollop of curiosity. This works well for the reader, who knows a little about traditional advertising and has that curiosity but not the science.

Lindstrom explores the neurological results of advertisements--studying how ads, product placement, etc cause our brains to react and influence our behavior.

He brings a lot to the table and I have to give him credit for a lot of end notes. There are explorations of product placement, our desire to have what others have (how Apple has sold all those Ipods), religious influences on purchasing, sex in advertising, and a lot of interesting points about what isn't and doesn't work. It was particularly interesting to see how one advertiser is being edged out of American Idol fan brains because they use only "traditional commercials" rather than product placement as well as how one cell company's classic ring tone triggers all sorts of negative brain reactions. Oops.

Lindstrom leads you along, promising ever more information and I was kind of expecting a big reveal at the end. I didn't really feel there was one, though he does a nice job of summarizing. But I enjoyed what he was exploring.

One thing that struck me particularly was his research into warning labels on cigarette packs and anti-smoking ads. Though logically our conscious mind knows that the anti-smoking ads are meant to discourage picking up a cigarette. What was shown neurologically was that watching one such ad actually triggered a craving for a cigarette. It trigged a story I'd been told by a former smoker, who said that she was ususally fine but that anti-smoking ads started a craving.

Lindstrom looks at where advertising is headed and, while some of it is a little scary with the idea that adverstisers can read your mind and make you neurologically and unconsciously react in a positive way to purchase something--one must keep in mind, that's what they've been trying to do for years. Certainly we must continue to be skeptical of why we're purchasing things but, haven't we always?

An engaging read and a thoughtful look at what may influence your shopping cart.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Librarian: One Part Personal Shopper

A part of being a librarian that I really enjoy is collection development: a.k.a. shopping. Getting to go through reviews and select books, music, audiobooks and finding the occasional DVD that I hop up and down and beg the DVD selector's fun! And I'm not spending my money.

However, with that freedom of not spending my money comes the responsibility that I'm spending yours. I'm spending money from the taxpayers and that means I need to choose wisely to meet the highly varied needs of your children. This is why occasionally I'm cross-eyed from wading through reviews and going through my "possible purchase lists", trying to round out the collection. There needs to be a balance of "good literature", classics, popular fiction, mysteries, hard stuff, and snack food reading. And that means that while I have multiple copies of the 2009 Newbury award winning book (Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman) and the latest by Laurence Yep, I'm also going to order the Daisy Meadows and Captain Underpants books--because your third graders are passing those last two around at school, sharing them, and coming to me to ask for them. And often, if I can get them in looking at the snack food books they'll grab something else while they are here. Come on --> the cool books are here at the library....

This morning, for the first time, I ordered books that were a memorial. Money was given to the library children's department in honor of a woman who passed away and it was my responsibility to purchase items that will get a bookplate with her name in them. It sounds simple, order books, insert name plate, shelve. But I spent time considering what I would purchase--items that would circulate, ones we needed, but also books that will have a shelf longevity greater than the Tiara Club or Bionicle series.

I'm in the middle of a heavy weeding project, trying to breathe life and love back into a chapter book collection that hasn't seen it in a while. This means I'm handling every single book, putting holds on ones that are checked out so I can see condition, making the decisions about getting rid of Mary Kate and Ashley, Babysitters Club, or that book that was really popular eight years ago, but hasn't circulated of late. Part of the weeding means that I am replacing a lot of our well-loved and used classics and it was to this list I turned for the memorial.

For the memorial gift I ended up ordering Black Beauty (Anna Sewell); A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Madeline L'Engle); Hard Gold (Avi); and Little Women (Louisa May Alcott). Of the four, only Hard Gold is a new title, but the other three continue to have strong circulation, and they are books parents consistently ask for when looking for something they remember reading as children. And in competition with all of the new and exciting titles I'm buying, classics sometimes go by the wayside because of dull covers--which is why I spent time not only considering titles, but appearance of those titles. How it will appeal to the casual browser is important: we're all book-cover magpies.

So that is part of my day--being a personal shopper of literature and music. Hmm...I wonder if I've included that on my resume.

And to read School Library Journal and pick out some more titles!

Monday, February 16, 2009

In which I might have just invented an awesome new phrase....

One of the more *insert adjective of your choice* teens at work calls me "Miss Serious." While I have refrained from responding in a fashion that would probably get me in trouble, I have chosen to ignore the name calling--mostly because the teen doesn't get it. This teenager, at height of angst and faux-wit, fails to realize that I'm not being serious: I'm being sarcastic.

I've been light on the blog recently--there's not a lot right now in the library profession that has really struck a chord of late. Certainly there's much going on and many conversations but not ones I've felt especially inclined to take part in other than an occasional comment on FriendFeed. And when faced with the profession as a whole, I get the same feeling that I have about the teenage patron--they don't get when I'm being sarcastic.

Obviously there are exceptions to this broadsweeping statement. There are any number of good web-based professional contacts/friends that I've made who fully have learned my voice, even though they've never heard me speak or seen a wry smile accompanying a comment. It is, however, a little harder to apply an air-cuffing (implying a wack upside the head) against some of the lunacy and internal nonsense that we all seem to be beating our heads against.

The overall cynicism level is at a high of late too---a lot of the bloggers I read and know are writing tirades and declaiming at full voice. There's anger and frustration and sarcasm. Perhaps we just need spring. Or perhaps library science needs spring.

I still haven't been able to find anyone willing to take me up on my offers of help when it comes to ALA, which leaves me more disillusioned than ever. When the only real barrier I can see is my current inability to take time off twice a year to fly across country and spend vast quantities of money for twenty minute meetings and social activities....oh, wait, there goes the cynicism again. And before anyone asks, yes, I've volunteered through the formal channels and the informal ones too and no, I'm not going to be able to go to Midwinter and Annual on a regular basis every year--continuing to have that expectation is paralyzingly restrictive for those of us unable or unwilling to spend a couple of grand each year* and quite possibly the majority of our vacation days on those singular events.

I'm not against helping or working hard. It is difficult though when one jumps up and down and offers assistance and continues to be ignored. And stalking committee chairs has never really been my style.

There is a lot of good things going on of late and I will try to get some blogs out about those, because after a week of drama that wasn't bloggable, I think I too need to look at some more chipper things.

Let me go find my happy. I think I left it in one of my wool bins.

* Airfare: $400; Hotel/Ground Transportation: $200; Food: $200; Registration: $150 --already we're near $1000 and that's just the basics.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Pile in My Library Basket

As I commented recently to M or the Incredibly Patient Mother, probably both, I'm reading more "adult" books of late. I don't mean books of a prurient nature but ones that are in the adult portion of the library rather than the teen or children's room. This, I'm learning, comes as a shock to some people.

I must keep in mind that those in my immediate day to day don't recognize that I haven't always read children's literature. Though widely read as a child,* I skipped the teen section almost entirely and went straight for Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton around the age of twelve. Through college and graduate school, the reading I did outside of class tended far more towards escape literature: short romances or mysteries. After a forty page dense essay on taxonomies or the ethics of the copy machine, you too would be ready for an easily solvable crime where the killing is done off-scene and a happy ending is achieved in under 200 pages.

Then I started working in children's departments. This hadn't really been the original plan--I'd wanted to go for music cataloging. But previous experience working with children led me to Chicago Public and now La Crosse Public in the Youth Services departments. And if I haven't read the fiction books--it's awfully hard to make a good recommendation to the patrons coming in.

So, for nearly two years I've piled on the children's books. The selection these days seems better written and from a far greater variety than I remember as a child**, this excepting the diabetes-inducing series that I can't order enough of to make our little princesses, superheros, fairies, underwater sponges, and pop stars happy. Our Teen Librarian really enjoys her work too, which means there are a lot of spiffy teen novels that follow me home as well.

But a diet of literature intended for those under 18 (or spiced only with that familiar escape literature), has lost some of the appeal. So I'm wading through Buy-ology (review to come soon) and going back to Four Queens. The latter isn't really a stretch, I like European histories of Medieval and Renaissance times and actually read an Eccesiastical History of the Bristish People for pleasure***. The former caught my eye somewhere and has proved interesting thus far. We'll see. I still haven't ventured much into adult fiction for the moment, outside of my usual consumption of cozy mysteries and regency romances at a rate that seems to not surprise only the circulation staff (who are either too polite or are taking bets on how many I'll check out in the next month).

But while I know my reading has been rather focused, it's been strange to hear reactions to the book s. Based on those, you'd think I'd never read anything above a sixth grade audience level. "Oh, an adult book." First the surprise and then the backpedaling. "Well, it's not that you can't read one, I just never see you read one" seems to be a popular refrain, despite the fact that the people speaking rarely see me read anything other than those cozy mysteries and romances (the latter of which come with their own assumptions and reader baggage). Children's lit tends to be consumed at home.

Ah, the joys of other people's assumptions about me. Here's your friendly afternoon reminder not to assume--for you know what it makes, right?

*The Incredibly-Patient-Mother's rule about library books was that I had to be able to carry them all to the car by myself. Fortunately, I just had to make it to the car. Once we got home, I could make two trips into the house.
**Though I'm sure I missed some gems of the 80s
***And to a lot of weird looks on the subway

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Updates 1,2,3

It's been a bit of busy over here but unfortunately, nothing that really makes for a good blog post. A good soap opera, yes, but not so much a blog post.

Anywho, I just updated Feedburner with Google so hopefully everything moved over smoothly and no one is having any issues. If you need to resubscribe (shouldn't, fingers crossed) the new feeds are on the site. Just have to update the comments feed and I'll go do that once this is up.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Tiny Taste of Spring

When I left the house at nearly 2 p.m., it was nearly 40 degrees.

These high 30 degree temperatures are ones where I'll willingly go outside! And, since once never knows truly if within three days we'll be faced with a foot of snow and nothing but grey skies, I headed for the walking trail.

Alongside a drainage ditch (I's about 10' high and concrete but there's a little water draining into it from somewhere) and the train tracks, there's a very nice walking trail. It's not a picturesque forest trail, situated as it is between the backs of houses and the train, but there are trees and a little bit of grass on either side and it's peaceful and it's located just across the street, which is really most convenient.

Armed with earphones, my Rose-Hulman mug of tea (courtesy of Sibling-the-Younger) and-wonder of wonders--only a jacket, it was onward. The listening was Cast On, a knitting podcast by Brenda Dayne. I'm woefully behind on all but one of my pods but I'm starting to work through the near gigabyte of backlog.

Today was obviously the first day of really nice weather we've seen in six weeks. I've never seen the walking trail that busy. Not that we were tumbling over each other but there was a steady stream of couples, dog walkers, people out jogging, a pair of tweens--one with heely-shoes, and a biker. And, of course, me, headed generally south and geeking out on a knitting podcast.

It was a pleasant walk for all the navigating people. There were dips where water covered the walkway and I'm hoping the rain due for Monday will wash away some of the remainders the dogs have left behind. I acknowledged a couple of people, no one I knew, but each of us firmly determined to get outside today and enjoy a little bit of sunshine. There was a general sense of well-being and yes, we would get outside again and we were going to embrace these warmer temps!

Returning home an hour later, I had only one little complaint. I'd neglected to wear any sort of glove or mitt and the jacket I'd worn wasn't especially meant to help keep my hands warm. So my hands were stiff with chill and even yet are a little sore. I've been pretty good about wearing heavy gloves this winter, though not even fleece seems to ward off the arctic temperatures we've had. Once some of the current projects are done, perhaps I'll get to some mitts for myself.

Tomorrow looks to be another nice, albeit cool, day. Perhaps I'll get out again. Spending time outside like this is such a necessity, especially as we've not hit March yet and I don't think winter's blown her last breath.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Book Review: Smart Cookies Guide to Getting More Dough

Somewhere online recently referred me to

The Smart Cookies' Guide to Making More Dough

I'm not much of one for reading finance books but I was sucked in by the demographic appeal--young women talking about money.

From that perspective, I think it's a good thing. Among my friends we discuss money casually--not with any focus and I think many of us encounter a perception that it's something we "should deal with more when we're settling down." Granted, many of us are at the settling point but waiting for some future life plan isn't a good excuse.

And the book provides pretty decent worksheets, some good basics on investments, and it might help get women talking.

However, I nearly gave up half way through the book because of how pretentiously glamorous and idealized it seemed. When they're fussing about Betsy Johnson gowns and $1500 wardrobe budgets per quarter--it raises a big red skepticism flag. Then they added in thoughtless phrases like "You should just swap clothes with your friends like we did because we're all the same size!" Of my closest friends, I think Dee is the only one I've ever been able to borrow a pair of pants from--and that was a one night emergency with a pair that she said didn't fit her well. The Blonde and I have shared costume jewelry once or twice and a pink newsboy cap but "borrowing clothes" for me generally has involved grabbing a sweatshirt from one of my guy friends when I didn't dress quite as warmly as I should. And while I recognize these women were in a major metropolitan area, the salaries being quoted seemed pretty high on the median. The book was trying to be too Sex and the City (insert Money for Sex) for me.

The Verdict: There's a place for it, there are some useful tools and hopefully it might inspire some young women to be more financially capable and responsible. But know that you're going to be wading through some pretentiousness and designer conscious mentality.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hedgehogs in the News: Catch up

A couple of things have come through and I would be remiss in not sharing them.

My-Friend-the-Lawyer (who is diligently studying for the bar exam in the reading room at NYPL--oh the jealousy) sent me this interesting story:

Mcdonald's Changes Lids to Save German Hedgehogs

while looking for Boy Lobbies City to Get Hedgehog Ownership Permitted

(Now if they'd just approve hedgehogs in NYC, life would be perfect!)

Just to confirm, yes I've heard about The Hedgehog's Dilemma [and no, it's not a book entirely about my hair and the issues I have with it each morning]. I have put it on hold and we'll see. I don't have any particularly strong feelings about it as yet.

And finally: