Sunday, May 21, 2017

Five months!

Did you read the New Yorker piece, "The Personal-Essay Boom is Over"? It pretty much summed up how I've been feeling about so much online content -- writing blogs, reading blogs, tweeting links to blogs -- I weeded my feed reader aggressively a few months back, have pretty much only been reading posts from former Sassy staffers, The Pool, and a handful of libraryland sites.

So I haven't posted here since some best books lists in December, and I also noticed I hadn't composed a tweet, only RTed since our state library association conference last month. And now there are those new, Facebook-esque targeting and tracking strategies, yuck.)

A machine intelligence might intuit I'm depressed, which with all of the family drama and the horrific and divisive political landscape, that isn't off base...I can't help but notice that my web-based reticence pretty much maps to the presidential administration. Obviously, the daily social media proclamations from the White House have brought a whole new level of scrutiny to online microinteractions.

As much as I believe in transparency, it just seems any candid statement can come back to bite you in completely unanticipated ways. And, after some very bad repercussions from what I thought of as sheer observation, I'm downright reluctant to share anything that isn't 110 percent cheerleader-y because you never know who's watching or who will scroll back absolute years in your accounts like every horrible and alarmist "digital footprint" lesson warns.

Anyway, I used to find the interwebs stimulating, now I just find them tiring. Thanks for reading, though.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Best (Audio-)books of 2016

It was The Archers that hooked me, the Odyssey Award kept me listening for production errors, now I can't get in the car without "something good to listen to..." I wanted to share some of the audiobooks I particularly enjoyed this year.

Author, Author

Toni Morrison is not the only one to light up her own audiobooks. This year, I was particularly besotted with Tim Federle's The Great American Whatever, as warm and funny as you would expect, and M.T. Anderson's Symphony for City of the Dead. All that Russian! And fun, if a different sort of fun... the author definitely gets some latitude.

The Year of the Thriller

Thrillers demand particular skills from narrators. The talented Imogen Church reads both of Ruth Ware's novels, The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood, doing an excellent job with a diverse cast of characters, in addition to the mounting suspense.

Georgia Maguire builds the tension minute-by-minute in Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris...

There's a full cast for The Widow by Fiona Barton.

Penelope Rawlins and Dugaid Bruce-Lockhart alternate in two nail-biters by Gilly Macmillan, What She Knew and The Perfect Girl.

And in nonfiction, but it seems to apply: Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker, read by Sean Pratt. Interesting and sympathetic take on Craig's list escort disappearances.

Simon Vance

Did you read his Audiofie interview with Alan Moore? The man's a treasure! The first Simon Vance I ever listened to was People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry, but I got completely into it, enough to listen through twice, even picked up a  few Japanese phrases. I liked Vance enough to tackle The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher and the much-better The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: The Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale. I loved his version of The Little Stranger by Sarah Watters, and missed his tones almost, but not quite enough to listen to some of the Ian Fleming in our public library's Overdrive account.

I bought the 47 hours of his complete Sherlock Holmes...stay tuned.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Best Books of 2016

I read so many things NOT on this list this year, some rather hush-hush. Let's just say, I am particularly proud of our Amelia E. Walden Award Winner, All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. What a tour de force! But I decided to just leave out all other YA for that reason.

Some of my other favorites...

Politically Incorrect

The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver (2016)

I read this just before the election. Like Glory O'Brien, it's looking strangely prophetic. Say what you will about Shriver's indictment of identity politics, but I class her with Philip Roth or Alan Warner for pure virtuoso talent. She nailed the "pull-the-ladders-up-after-ourselves" ethos informing my own generation.

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang (2016)

Another economic novel, this one about the over-confidence of an immigrant Chinese cosmetics tycoon fallen on hard times and his children and the navigate life on the skids.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (2016)

It made me gasp and laugh and tear up, in quick succession, its irreverence a delight, and Beatty's unchecked ping-ponging between esoteric associations is a joy to behold.

Not that I didn't enjoy the Joanna Trollope and Curtis Sittenfeld (Eligible) efforts, but Charlotte Bronte is relatively unmined, and the Korean-American take it irresistible. This one was an Alex title.


If there is one genre I know inside and out, it's women's fiction. And I love, love, love the decidedly creepy tone of the minute. While 2016 will forever be The Year I Discovered Sophie Hannah, and not from those Agatha Christie sequels of late, there are quite a few good thrillers in the wake of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. I myself can't wait for a revival of the gothic. See also Ruth Ware.

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood (2014)

A thriller set in the worst sort of rooming house, where streetwise three women nonetheless come together and form their own sort of family. I've read all the Marwood this year, but this is my favorite.

Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw (2016)

Translated from the Dutch. Our protagonist discovers she has an older brother she has never met. Her mother is one of the most original and chillingly drawn character I've ever encountered.

What the Nanny Saw by Fiona Neill (2012)

Neill may be best known for her satire, Yummy Mummy, but this bird's-eye view of the 2008 banking crisis rivals Capital.


American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Life of Teenage Girls by Nancy Jo Sales (2016)

Ethnography about the wild west that is social media.

Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives by Helen O'Neill (2006)

The jaw-dropping story of a flamboyant Australian textile designer whose life and murder proved stranger than fiction.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West (2016)

If you're a Lindy West fan, you don't need particulars.

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee (2016)

A gripping first-person narrative about life in one of the world's most fascinating places.

Because I'm not writing about YA this time, and leaving out my Alabama authors, this year's one has more titles written specifically for adults than past years (below), if it matters. And I am scraping together another list, Best (Audio-)books of 2016, to follow soon.

Friday, November 18, 2016


This year has been one of the most challenging I've ever had. I'm a privileged being, but I'm obviously operating in a world I didn't see coming and that I didn't really know existed. All the things I care deeply about -- children, public education, equity, diversity, social justice, freedom of speech -- seem not just to be discounted, but actively fought against. It's dispiriting, to say the least.

I'm grappling to redefine myself since I've lost my street cred as a practitioner. I have incredible students, doing important work, but I'm feeling more and more like my job is to buoy their spirits in addition to educating and enculturating them as school librarians. There are practical considerations as well as philosophical ones. I spent a month doing work around ESSA, only to hear from my state department of education that things related to that implementation were on indefinite hold, post-election. I'm at NCTE, but library-less, so my ALAN box will go to one of my students. It is more philanthropic and abstract, and a lot less fun than pressing just-right books into students' hands.

Maybe things are ripe for backlash. Maybe we will end up investing heavily in the arts and humanities, in creating social and cultural supports. Whatever the answer is, I am going to have to push beyond my comfortable affirmative bubble that cosseted me this far. I have to confront my own fears, and the bile in my throat, to be a force for the positive. But I only have so much time, energy, and money to expend, and to what ends?

This is a journey, with some trying detours. but imagine how wonderful it will feel to finally put your foot down heavy on the accelerator, or better yet, set the cruise control. These potholes are only temporary, right? But I don't think the answer is privatizing the roads.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Inching my way out

I wrote most recently about my renewed paranoia about the internet of things. I, who love the publishing and educational opportunities afforded by all out wonderful online resources, am getting cranky about putting myself out there. Even with all these plug-ins and anonymizers, I am downright worried about visiting certain sites, especially with political sea-change looming. 

Yesterday, I tried to comment on a local newspaper article, but couldn't - I don't have facebook. There was no other authentication or login method. You are expected to locate yourself and your network that way. I was as affronted as the first time Apple told me how many minutes to what it had intuited was my workplace.

So when I read Nicholas Carr's The World Wide Cage, excerpted from his new book, so much rang true, especially about blogging, what it was and isn't now, but also about the economics and power dynamics of this system we have enabled.
"[Benkler et al.] failed to appreciate how the network would funnel the energies of the people into a centrally administered, tightly monitored information system organised to enrich a small group of businesses and their owners."

"The culture that emerged on the network, and that now extends deep into our lives and psyches, is characterised by frenetic production and consumption – smartphones have made media machines of us all – but little real empowerment and even less reflectiveness. It’s a culture of distraction and dependency."
It reminds me of the conversations I had around privacy when I visited Russia in 2006. The teachers and librarians I met didn't understand the concept. Surely, they argued, you would want privacy only if you were doing something illegal or untoward. I found it difficult to justify the fact that maybe you just wanted to keep somethings to yourself, or choose what to put out there. 

I think the central issue I have is people taking random leavings on the web as a whole of someone's being -- the alleged criminal whose anti-authoritarian re-tweet from 2012 is showcased on the newscast, the beauty queen whose liking a racially-tinged joke on facebook comes back to haunt her, what passes for journalism in our world of churn. Well, after all, privacy was an anomalous state.