Think on your feet

Part of my job is coming up with display ideas for highlighting the library’s collection of picture books. Pinterest is a huge help with this, and before my first day I had a few ideas in mind. One of them turned out like this:

I put this display together three months ago with the vague hope that we’d have some rain come September.

Then, Hurricane Harvey happened.

So joking about the rain when folks have literally been rained out of their homes would obviously be in poor taste. Scratch that idea. Luckily I had a backup board I’d put together with no real plan for displaying it in mind. I put my display up this morning and it looks a little like this:

Cute, relevant, and not horribly insensitive. I can use the other display next year, perhaps, when things have died down. These are the kinds of things that you have to be prepared for as a librarian, whether you’re showing off picture books or planning services for refugee populations. Our goal is always to meet the needs and expectations of our community. I think my current job is doing a pretty well at teaching me that. While it’s had its ups and downs, I’ve learned a lot in the past 4 months. Here’s to learning more.

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Book Review – Where’d you go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

If I ever tell you that a book you’ve mentioned is “On my list,” call me out on my bullshit. “On my list” is my way of saying “I’ll get to it when I get to it.” Which may well be never, given how long this imaginary list has grown. Where’d you go, Bernadette is one of those books that’s been on my list for a good long while, probably since it was released in 2012. My former roommate spoke pretty well of it, and I even checked it out to read on a flight. Instead, I found myself distracted by a magazine and, probably, sleep.

So it wasn’t until this past weekend that I finally told myself that I was going to finish this damned book. There was a hurricane sweeping towards San Antonio, and it seemed like there was a good chance it would be just me, my pets, and a flashlight alone in my little apartment. Before leaving work on Friday I checked out Where’d you go, Bernadette once more and vowed I’d get through it this time. And what do you know? I did!

I should probably mention, first and foremost, that San Antonio escaped the storm relatively unscathed. We got a little rain and a bit of wind, and nothing more. I wish I could say the same for Corpus Christi and Rockport, and for Houston. Texas is hurting right now. If you’re the giving type, now might be the time to look into local charities on the ground that are trying to get folks back on their feet.

Where’d you go, Bernadette is the story of prodigal mother Bernadette and her equally brilliant daughter Bee. It’s also a story about mental illness, though exactly what that illness is manages to fly under the radar. Depression? Anxiety? All we know is that Bernadette hasn’t been the same since Something happened to her back in L.A. She’s managed to be a great mother to Bee, but seems to have few redeeming qualities otherwise – she’s bitter, angry, and is so sick of people and of life in general that she’s outsourced her everyday tasks to a virtual assistant in India. Despite this, she manages to be a likable character. I’m still not entirely sure how Maria Semple did it. Maybe it’s because so many of the little aggravations that get Bernadette going are exactly that – aggravating. You can’t help but sympathize, for the most part. Traffic sucks, and nobody wants to eat at a shitty restaurant.

As for Bee, she’s almost too good to be true. Despite a childhood brush with serious illness, she’s managed to flourish almost to excess. She does well in school, she’s liked by her peers, adored by her parents, admired by her teachers. My one real complaint is that she never really stops excelling, even after Bernadette’s mysterious disappearance. Despite the loss of her best friend, there’s little actual change to Bee’s character. Even when she’s kicked out of boarding school and rejecting her father’s attempts at reconciliation, she’s pushing on, putting pieces of the puzzle together and finding answers. I had a hard time imagining that things wouldn’t turn out all right, after all, despite the family being thrown some major doozies.

Told in a sort of epistolary format, the story unfolds in the form of emails, journals, and letters, punctuated with the odd FBI report. The conflict is driven by ever-present gnats, as Bernadette has dubbed them, those hovering, agitating people who just seem to complicate things unnecessarily. Gnats bad, Bernadette (and Bee, of course) good. Easy enough, I guess. Only some of the gnats did mean well, and it’s apparent that they’ve all got their own troubles to deal with. Bernadette’s greatest persecutor manages to become her salvation in one unexpected twist.

The novel ends with the reunion you’d been led to expect, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered. There are still some major bridges to be crossed and consequences to be faced. But we don’t get to see that, which felt like a bit of a letdown. I rated Where’d you go, Bernadette 3/5 stars, but I’d say that it’s definitely worth a read. I burned through it once I got started and I can see myself rereading it in the future.

Book Review – The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon

Confession: I’m borderline aromantic. There’s just something about romance as a genre that turns me off, in large part because I’m not a romantic person myself. There’s something about these grand gestures that seems contrived and insincere. So when I heard about The Sun is Also a Star getting a lot of press, I initially wrote it off as another melodramatic teenage lovefest. I don’t know what possessed me to check it out, but I did. And I’m glad I did, because this book was the most refreshing take on romance I’ve encountered in a long time.

I like my romances to take place on the sidelines, secondary plots to the need to save the world or defeat the evil wizard. While the romance in this book was certainly an important part of the plot, it wasn’t the defining driving force in the story. Natasha is a Jamaican immigrant on the eve of her family’s deportation, desperately searching for a way to stay in the US. Daniel is the son of Korean immigrants, burying his desire to make art beneath the facade of the dutiful son. While the bulk of the story alternates between their viewpoints, we also get a look at other characters we meet along the way, like the unhappy security guard and the enamored legal assistant. I absolutely loved this technique. I have kind of a thing for minor characters and sidekicks, so it was wonderful to see the way these “NPCs” drove the story with their actions – and in at least one significant case, inaction.

The romance aspect of the story was whirlwind, but it never felt forced or artificial. There’s a sort of recurring theme of celestial elements, and despite all the talk of fate you can’t help marvel at these two people being thrown together at this particular point in their lives. It feels significant without being hammered home. This isn’t a story of love overcoming everything. It’s a story about love just sort of happening.

We also get a lot of fascinating cultural insight, questions about race and class and ethnicity. Daniel’s family has made a living selling black hair products, a scene I first heard about in the documentary Good Hair some years ago. The question of whether or not what Natasha and Daniel have is bigger than their families is secondary to whether or not it’s big enough for them.

And the ending! God, I loved the ending. It was so bittersweet, happy but also realistic and down-to-earth. Nicola Yoon really hit it out of the ball park, with this one. I haven’t yet read her other novel, Everything Everything, but after this it’s definitely on my list. In short, I highly recommend The Sun is Also a Star – I gave it 5/5 stars.

Up next, I’m hoping to get through Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. I’ve had it checked out forever and a half now, and I’ve only managed to slog through the first few pages. It’s not capturing me as readily as Dumplin’ did, but I’m trying not to sell it short without giving it a proper chance. I haven’t been in much of a reading mood lately, to be fair. Hopefully things will pick up soon!

Float On

A lot has happened since my last post, most of it good. I'm still adjusting to the new job, and I find that I like it a lot overall. The Switchgrass Review accepted my short piece "Okay" for publication this fall. I booked my flight for Dragon Con. I joined a wine club. And my sister and I spent a lazy afternoon floating down the Guadalupe River.

In contrast, I woke to thunder and lightning this morning. It's been storming nonstop since. I got to put the raincoat I bought for my Coraline cosplay to its intended use.

I signed up for OwlCrate a while back, and I've gotten a couple boxes since. I find that it gets my Librarian Gears turning. I'm taking over our Family Fun program this fall, and I'm looking forward to doing some fun STEAM activities. There are a lot of professionals development opportunities on the horizon for me, including an appearance at the Louisiana Book Festival to talk podcasting. Exciting times!

I can't pretend it's all sunshine and roses. I've been struggling with some self-doubt, and if I try to think too far ahead I get a pounding headache. The Alexandria Archives are on hiatus while we all deal with real-life commitments, but we are working on content while we're on break. And that's all we can do – keep working. Float on, even through the rapids and the shallow bits with the slimy rocks.

Can you die from too much librarianing?

Ah, the age-old question that has long plagued my profession. If the answer is “yes,” I haven’t learned it yet. I’m hanging in there. Back in May I moved out of my old place to a new city about a couple hours away. I wish I could say I’ve gotten unpacked and suitably settled, but that would be a lie. I’m still surrounded by boxes and potato chip crumbs. Someday, I tell myself, I’ll get it together. But that day is not today. And it’s probably not tomorrow, either.

I had this idea in my head that a change of scenery would get me out of the rut I was in. And for the most part, it has. I can’t afford to spend too much time down in the dumps because frankly, I’m just too busy to wallow in my own self-loathing. The Alexandria Archives and my writing have gone largely neglected as I struggle to adjust to a new lifestyle that’s pretty different from my old one. Well, not entirely different – I still spend my free time vegetating in front of the TV, but exhaustion is largely to blame. Lately I’ve been marathoning the new MST3K, which has been a fun watch. And I’ve picked cross stitch back up, so I’m not being totally unproductive. But there’s definitely a sense of “grass was greener.”

I like my  new job. I like it a lot, actually, despite horrific papercuts, screaming children, and collapsing boxes. But there’s still that fear of ending up back in a rut where I’m not making any progress professionally or personally, like I’m just existing to take up space. So I’m trying to take initiative to change things. Tonight, I’ll begin recording my audio for episode 16 of the Archives. Tomorrow, I’ll go to a writers’ meetup and maybe spend some time with a new friend. And I’m going to finish that damn cross stitch. If life’s what you make of it, I’m going to make sure mine involves some dainty embroidered flowers.

Book Review – Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli

I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda hot on the heels of Dumplin’, and I’m glad I did. It prolonged that sense of feelgood nostalgia that had me looking back on my high school years and how much they changed me as a person. That’s not to say that they were great years – in fact, there was a lot of awful stuff that went on – but they certainly were formative.

I never found it easy to make friends. I was always receptive to new people, but not great at going out and engaging them. It’s something I’ve gotten better at as I’ve worked at it over the years, but when I was young, it was nigh impossible. Like the protagonist Simon Spier, I had a small group of close friends. In Simon’s case, the dynamics between himself and his friends Nick and Leah has been complicated by the addition of newcomer Abby. A once comfortable arrangement has become a little terse and awkward, a situation Simon sometimes struggles to navigate.

Theater nerd Simon has been exchanging emails with the mysterious Blue, another gay student at his little Georgia high school. The catch is, he doesn’t know who Blue really is – but he desperately wants to find out. Things are further exacerbated when he’s halfheartedly blackmailed by classmate Martin, who’s stumbled across Simon’s emails with Blue. Simon’s troubles are, for the most part, relatable – he struggles with his sense of identity at odds with how others have always seen him, coming to terms with aspects of himself that he’s not quite ready to share with the world yet.

Identity is a major theme throughout the novel. Simon isn’t the only character struggling with their place in the scheme of things, or keeping secrets. The world seems so much simpler when you’re young – you think you know all there is to know about yourself, and the people around you. Like Simon, we can all remember what it felt like when we began to realize that we were wrong.

Writing LGBTQ romance can be a tricky thing, in large part because the “queer experience” is so varied. I remember being hurt when a favorite writer depicted a character’s sexuality as yet another misfortune laid at his feet, just something else that made him weird and “different.” Perhaps because my own experience was so similar to Simon’s, I found it almost refreshing. His identity isn’t portrayed as the end of the world, a battle to be fought or a misfortune to endure. He accepts himself, and even dealing with the (sometimes negative) reception of his queerness isn’t made out to be the defining conflict of the novel.

I rated Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda 5/5, a rating I don’t give lightly, though it might look like I do given how many great reads I’ve come across lately. I’ve been on a reading roll, haven’t I? It’s a good feeling, and it’s made my upcoming transition to a new job just a little easier to swallow. I’ll be reading Ruta Sepetys’s Out of the Easy next, though there’s no telling when I’ll finish, considering that I’m a week out from my move. I just hope this momentum can power me through everything that’s in store for me, next!

 

Book Review – Dumplin’, Julie Murphy

“Go Big or Go Home” reads the subtitle of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin. And it’s a great fit – Dumplin’ is big smiles, and big heart. After slogging through a few heavy reads, it was exactly what I was looking for. “I need something cheerful, damn it,” I told my friend Skye of the Spork Review after my last melodramatic cliffhanger. After hearing about this book left and right, I finally picked it up from the public library a couple days ago.

I love the library, and not just because I’m a librarian. Since I signed my soul over to academia, my life has felt consumed by work. My recent reading roll has been a welcome break for that. Lately the public library has become my home away from home. It’s one of those treasured public spaces for me, a bit like the movies, an exercise in communal entertainment. Only the library is so much more. It truly is one of those limitless public places, there to serve everyone.

But existing in public spaces can present some challenges. Willowdean Dickson, unapologetic fat girl, is all too aware of this. We catch up with Will on her summer vacation, just a few months after the death of her beloved Aunt Lucy. Will’s summer plans – hang out with her best friend El and save up some cash by working at fast food joint Harpy’s – are disrupted by a variety of complications, ranging from the attention of handsome “Peachbutt” private school boy Bo and a parade of zealous would-be beauty pageant queens.

Though her mother is pageant royalty, Will has never been considered a contender. Why would she be? She’s fat. But as the school year starts back up and her relationships begin to change around her, Will finds herself changing with them. She can only be the beauty queen’s daughter and the pretty girl’s chubby sidekick for so long. The addition of big (athletic big, Will clarifies) football player Mitch makes for a sort of love triangle, one of my least favorite tropes, but mercifully this one is low-key and largely free of drama.

Murphy makes it abundantly clear that it’s never about winning for Will. Her decision to enter the beauty pageant isn’t about proving herself to anyone but herself. Being a big girl shouldn’t disqualify her from the same things other girls want, whether it’s to get the guy or wear a cute red swimsuit. In the end, it doesn’t matter who does win the pageant – what matters is that Will has finally come to accept that she deserves as much as any other girl, something she lost sight of along the way.

It’s hard to capture exactly what made Dumplin’ such a wonderful read. It’s rare that a book will make me “Awww” out loud, or smile like my face is about to crack open. Dumplin’ did both. It was such a sincere, sweet read, and exactly what I needed with all the stress and complication currently going on in my life. Murphy’s characters are all remarkably believable, endearingly human and easy to relate to. I can’t recommend this book enough! I only wish it had been a bit longer, to be perfectly honest – as I turned the last page, I found myself missing the protagonists already. I’ll definitely be reading more of Murphy’s work in the future, and I hope you will too.

 

100k Downloads!

It’s hard to believe this day has come. When we first started The Alexandria Archives podcast, we never thought it would get much of a listener base. Really, it was more about entertaining ourselves than anyone else. But we put a lot of work into the podcast, and little by little it started to pay off. Our audio quality got a lot better and we even started to receive listener submissions! And fan art!

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But it wasn’t until we hit 100k downloads that we started to realize we’d actually Done a Thing. We took a vague concept, played with it, and eventually managed to produce something that other people listen to and apparently enjoy. There’s no denying that we still have a long way to go, but it’s a good time to take a step back and recognize that we’ve come a long way already. And that’s really awesome.

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Stitch Fix Box #4

It’s that time of the month! Or rather, it was that time of the months two weeks ago, and I was too busy/stressed out to blog about it. My fourth Stitch Fix box came in, and it was a bit of a mixed bag. I’ll get to that. In other news, my place is mostly packed up. I’m waiting on an official start date before I make any announcements but it looks like I’ll be starting a new position by summer’s end. Exciting!

So, Stitch Fix: I was really specific about what I wanted this month. And to my stylist Ashlea’s credit, she met my requests.


I requested a new cardigan, because librarians love their cardigans. Unfortunately, the Olivina Hooded Slub Knit Cardi was a bit big on me. It hung shapeless and dull. I considered trading it in for a smaller size, but I wasn’t crazy about the sleeves either, so away it went.


I REALLY liked the Jake Distressed Cuff Short. I liked it so much I already owned another pair of shorts exactly like them. As much as I wanted to keep these, I just couldn’t justify it.


This top. I hated this top. It fit, it just looked awful on me – shapeless, saggy, and way too sheer. Enough said.


I’d specifically pinned the Chester Cargo Short, so I was SO excited to see them included in my box. Then I tried them on. They made my butt look great. They were also way too big in the crotch area. I didn’t even understand it. Is my butt to pelvis ratio off? With great sadness, these were a no.


I’d really wanted some d’Orsay flats, but according to Ashley there were none available in my size. I’d also pinned some laser cut flats, so these would’ve been a perfect substitute in any other color. The price point was great – I was so sad to reject these! But I already own one pair of gold flats, and I just didn’t need two. If these had been in tan or black, I would’ve kept them in a heartbeat.

This was my first time returning all 5 items to Stitch Fix. I can’t blame Ashlea – she really did work hard to meet all my requests. To be fair to her, there were outside circumstances: I’ve lost a bit of weight recently, affecting the fit of my clothes, and the move has me ultra wary of my spending. It just didn’t work out. But I’m not giving up on Stitch Fix! I’ll continue receiving boxes until I’m comfortable with my wardrobe, and given that I’ve donated a ton of clothes in preparation for the move, I’ve got a lot of room for growth. Let’s see how well I up my Librarian Chic game this year.

The move is going to bring a few changes with it. My new position will likely mean a lot more reading, so you can expect more book reviews on this blog, and I’ll be picking up a couple new subscriptions as well. I’m really looking forward to them! And hopefully you are, too.

Onwards

These days, it’s been hard to drag my nose out of a book to do much else. But recently I started packing. I’ve sort of jumped the gun on that, because I have no idea where I’m moving, or even when. All I know is that I’m going…somewhere. And somewhere is better than nowhere, right?

Recently I’ve been obsessing over the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. I’ll do a proper review of it eventually, but holy cow. It’s been a long time since I was this invested in a YA series. It has its hits and misses, but the hits are pretty solid, including a particular scene in Heir of Fire that scent chills down my spine. I’ve been told that Hulu is going to be making a TV series based off the novels, which I’m excited about, but also a little anxious. I’ve fallen in love with more than a few of the characters (TEAM BLACKBEAK) and I really hope they’re done justice when the time comes for casting.

I’ve decided that whatever my living situation is like come this Fall, I’m definitely going to try to be at Dragon Con this year. I had a blast last year, and I’m itching to put together an Ironteeth witch costume. I’m also looking forward to seeing some podcast people, including hopefully the crew behind The Blood Crow Stories podcast, which is another recent discovery. It’s wonderfully produced and a fascinating story, with a really interesting and diverse cast! I can’t recommend it enough.

My day job has been kicking my butt lately (hurray, academia!) so it’s nice to have some fun new media to turn to when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m infinitely grateful for the friends and family who ply me constantly with recommendations, even if I do end up hating them a little bit for contributing to my tendency to obsess over things. I’ve got a long week ahead of me, but at the end of it I’m looking forward to…well, more packing. I’ve taken apart one of my bookshelves, and I’m in the process of breaking down my YA and comics shelf in the office. My closets have been mostly emptied and I can probably put away the kitchenware I don’t use on a regular basis.  Because even if I don’t know where I’m moving, or exactly when, I know I’m moving forward – and that’s the part that matters to me the most.