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.

Monday, August 29, 2016

From the all your eggs in one basket file...

I sometimes used to riff during Google workshops that someday they was going to hold my data hostage and I would be forced to give them whatever they desire. But I sort of did that to myself this past month.

I blame Citizen Four, the documentary with Edward Snowden. After he scared me good, I basically firebombed my Macbook Air, downloading all sort of anonymity tools in a fit of paranoia.

And then a series of unfortunate events conspired to leave me Google-less.

1. Suffering from election-year neuropathy (seriously, my last flare up was in the summer of 2000), I fall down in a parking garage at UNC-Asheville, breaking my beloved Android Nexus tablet, my favorite ereading device and main entry into G-world.

2. You cannot buy that tablet anymore, for love or money, but there may be a new version soon. So I am down to an iPhone and a laptop for our three week long twenty-year-anniversary trip to Australia and my subsequent IBBY 2016 Congress in New Zealand. Thank goodness I did not take the Chromebook!

3. In Australia, need a text code from my phone to use Google-stuff on the tabla rasa black box Macbook Air. But my phone seems to have run up again the silver compact in my bag, shattering the screen and now only the home button is working. Why I thought putting something the size and weight of a hockey puck in my purse was a good idea is uncertain. I should have just used that front-pacing camera for a mirror like a normal person, obviously. So now I don't even have a camera for travel pictures.

4. Inexplicably, I didn't bring one of my unlocked phones and even the little bag of pay-as-you-go SIM cards that usually lives in my bag. Blame my perpetual quest to always carry my luggage on the plane a la Meet the Parents. And it's winter there, and people kept telling me how cold it is.

5. Evidently, my rescue email is from a job I last had in 2012.

6. No Drive, no Calendar -- almost worse than not gmail.

7. Can't I just restore to an earlier browser and system incarnation? I try it, but still demands authentication code.

8. My husband gets sick. We learn that New Zealand is a medical paradise, inexpensive, patient-centered, and super clean. Eventually, we are cleared to leave the country.

8. AT&T is happy to give me a new phone for two more year's bondage.

9. Success at last! Welcome back to 3,632 emails. And the jetlag from Oceania is no joke. So if you are waiting on an email from me, it might be a few days.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Rare experience

ALA Annual was an energizing blur of celebrations... but one experience was so extraordinary I can't not write about it. We all have our pet topics, things we particularly enjoy reading about. My own include Anne Frank, New Orleans, and North Korea. So the opportunity to chat with debut author Sungju Lee, whose memoir about leaving North Korea, Every Falling Star, will be published by Abrams' Amulet this September, was especially thrilling.

In South Korea, there are only 30,000 people who have escaped North Korea, so Sungju is one of a small coterie able to talk about life in the closed society. Funny and thoughtful, Sungju is professionally determined to work towards reunification of Korea through diplomatic channels, and his book for young people sets out his dramatic backstory.

Sungju's book focuses on his experience as a relatively pampered child of privilege who is forced to fend for himself after his family leaves the capital city of Pyongyang. When famine forces his parents to leave to seek food, he takes to the streets, where he and his band of brothers develop their own society and moral code. It concludes when, at long last, Sungju finds his grandfather and eventually, his father, joining him in South Korea.

We spent so much of the evening in Orlando talking about Sungju's experience after leaving North Korea, living in Canada and studying at Warwick, but after reading his book -- it was the first I grabbed after reading nineteen YA novels over the past six days -- has left me wishing I'd ask more about his leaving home. I almost asked him about whether he had to change all his clothes, since that seemed such a part of other accounts I'd read, but it seemed too intimate. It turned out to be a component of his journey, too.

A fascinating read!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Election time!

No, not that election, silly. A much more civilized and less contentious one, the American Library Association, our beloved professional organization. Those ballots open today!

I happen to be on that ballot twice -- once for the 2018 YALSA Nonfiction Award, once for AASL's Regional Director. If you are reading this, you probably know my raison d'etre happens to be reading, books, libraries, literacy. If you are a member of those divisions, I would appreciate your vote(s).

But I also have some recommendations.

President-elect: Steven Yates. Steven is a fellow Alabamian, a fellow school librarian, a solid fellow full of graciousness and responsibility. He also can have hard conversations. Excited to see where he takes AASL...

President-elect: Ernie Cox. Smart guy, has done the hard work to get here. And if that's not enough, Ernie chaired the Newbery that picked Last Stop on Market Street, so he thinks out of the box.
Board of directors:
Amy Koester You can't get more dedicated to children's services.
Sarah Wethern Sarah is a voracious reader, watcher, thinker with very good taste. I trust her implicitly.
Angie Manfredi Whip-smart social justice warrior, perhaps the smartest person on the front lines today.
Sylvia Vardell USBBY stalwart, promoter of poetry in this age of ours.
Katie Salo One of those twitter friends who constantly impressed you with her enthusiasm and smarts.

Board of Directors:
Robin Kurz When you work on a committee with someone, you can tell if they are conscientious, and Robin most certainly is.
Kafi Kumasi I met Kafi at an IMLS seminar at Indiana in 2006 and have been following her solid work over the last decade.
Kathy Burnette Someone I just know from online, but Kathy's thoughtful presence there bodes well.
Edi Campbell One of the absolute best kidlit bloggers out there.
Margaret A. Edwards:
Jennifer Anne Rothschild  Somehow, Jen manages to be quick, deep, and connected, all at the same time.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Long time, no blog

Three months? Been gone for a minute, but now I’m back with the jump-off, as Lil’ Kim once said so pithily.

Wow, January and February were rough. There was that too-early Midwinter with some super-charged Batchelder Award conversations, the anointing of our glorious winner The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy, then some life and death family drama, too … too little time to think, let alone write down thoughts ex post facto...

But some positives, too:

And just when I was sort of over Twitter, taken over as it has been by amateur marketers, but Lauren Laverne reels me back in… but, no, seriously, I'm checking out (if not posting) to insta & tumblr much more often these days.

Looking back on the eight-year cycle of my mental health, I can’t be the only person who gets the presidential election blues. I basically have to avoid the mainstream media to function AT ALL. How DO you cope?