Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year End Wrap Up

Over 10,000 pages

282 posts

33 books

In Julie & Julia, Julie Powell's blog starts out with a simple off-hand comment "If I wanted to learn to cook, I'd just cook my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking." The genesis of this blog was not much different. I'd read a couple of "year of" books and mentioned at the dinner table how much I enjoyed them, and that they had given me a lot to think about. My then-10-year-old daughter said she didn't understand what I meant by a "year of" book and I tried to explain by using the example of someone deciding to read "year of books" for a year, and then I thought, hey, that could be me, and so here I am winding up the year.

Reflection is an essential element of memoir. The types of books I intended for this project, those in which the author chose a year in which to try something different, do an experiment, and write about it include an epilogue type section in which they look at the ways the changed, however expected or unexpected. I don't have any life altering things to share here, but that is not to say I haven't changed over the course of the year. I am pleased to say I started a project and saw it through to its completion. I intended to read two books per month on a particular theme, and write about them, and so I did. I have tried in the past to keep diaries and journals, and have set them aside in short order. In creating this blog, and making it public, I felt an obligation to keep it up. Bridgewater State College has a Writing Across the Curriculum network, of which I am a member. The more one writes, the better a writer one becomes and so I have felt that I should try to write more myself. Public writing makes one vulnerable and I was quite aware that some posts were not as good or interesting as others, but it was the writing itself that was important. Writing about reading also helped. I knew when I was reading a book that was not as good as it could have been, and I knew when I was reading a really good book. And I took a few moments to think about why I liked or disliked a particular book so much, and this helped me to become a better writer as well. As regular readers know, about halfway through the year I started reading some of the books out loud to my husband, James. He mentioned that one common element the books had is a section in which the writer has to get through some difficult thing in order to acheive the goal they set out (Julie Powell and aspic; Simon Majumdar and his awful train trip through Mongolia). Was there such a thing for me this year? I read a few books I didn't enjoy very much, and probably would have put down were it not for my "project," but I am glad I read even these for the reason mentioned above. Another common element in these books is a section on "cheating" - a place where the writer broke the rules (this is especially true for the "not shopping" books). Did I cheat? I suppose I did. One of the "dog days" book was really classified as fiction, although based on real events. And two of the "back to school" books covered considerably less than a year's time. I bought one of the books (Mass Casualties) new without trying to get it elsewhere. I did cover this confession in my November 13 post, and still have no regrets about it.

James and I rediscovered the joy in reading together. It forced us to stop and take some time for each other. The books we picked were funny, and so we had plenty of opportunities to laugh together. If I have one sage piece of advice to offer readers for the year this is it: Read with someone. It will help you connect with them in ways you didn't know.

I will also say that many of the books did make me thougtful. Rebekah Nathan's book helped me to become a better teacher, and after reading Plenty I bought an "egg share" through my CSA so that I could add another local food to my diet. I am somewhat less cynical about religion after reading Jacobs, and Cohen's books.

I thank all who read my blog and especially those who posted. Reading comments from authors, and others with connections to the books were especially thrilling to this librarian. This is my last post for this blog. In 2010 I will start a new "year of" project "Celebrating the States" in which I will honor each of the 50 states through movies, food, and books. I hope all will join me. I have another recently started blog The Bridgewaters Project. This blog celebrates all things called Bridgewater.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wrapping up A Year without "Made in China"

One of my early memories is pretending to mend a hole in stuffed dog made of cheap vinyl with a plastic toy sewng machine. In so doing I managed to make the hole bigger and also noticed that both toys said "Made in Japan". And then I started noticing "everything" said "Made in Japan" and most of it seemed pretty shoddy. I even remember seeing a news program for children "In the News" that explained in 3 minutes how hard the Japanese worked to send exports to other countries. I never see "Made in Japan" on anything anymore. It all says "Made in China" now. Sara Bongiorni and her family set out on New Year's Day 2005 to see if they could make it through 12 months without buying anything "Made in China"

Bongiorni certainly underestimated her very young children "...the kids at one and four, are too little to know what they are missing. Can you imagine the howls if they were teenagers?" she says to her husband, Kevin. She discovers just how loudly four-year-olds can howl when denied the appropriate Halloween decorations. And also just how fickle they are once said decoration makes it into the house on a technicality. In Sold Out! Llewellyn simply left his wife and two teenagers out of his experiment, he was the only one who swore off buying for a year. In Not Buying It Judith Levine and her partner deal with the child issue by not having any. Levine points out that she is not sure she could have done her experiment if children were a factor. Adults can make do with last year's shoes, but kids sometimes outgrown a pair a season.

Cheating is a common theme in the "year-of/stunt genre". Almost all of them set out rules, and have a chapter or section on "cheating". The Bongiorni's have all kinds of exemptions about Chinese products entering their homes: gifts don't count; hand-me-downs don't count; anything they already have doesn't count. Even so, they have a greater "cheating" list than any of the other books I read because what they discover is that to live in society as we know it, we rely heavily on China. Even when they wanted to make or build something themselves, or simply repair something rather than replace it with something "made in China" they discover that often the pieces and parts they need are made in the forbidden country. However, they also discover what we here in New England call "good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity - make it last, make it do, or do without". Coffee maker breaks? (gasp) - boil water and run it through a filter. TV on the fritz? - read a book!

Christmas presents its own set of problems, since virtually all toys are made in China. Using the gift exemption and spending a lot of money on expensive toys made elsewhere they manage to have a fine Christmas. Bongiorni thinks quite a bit about the gifts her husband buys for her: "soap and Canadian office supplies". While she doesn't immediately see the romance of these gifts the bigger picture becomes clear. They are quite romantic. Kevin had to put a lot of thought into what he could get for her that wouldn't come from China. And he did all of this after he "spent the better part of a year in ripped shorts and flip flops."

True romantics know that real gifts are not given on gift giving occasions. They are given everyday. Once the receiver and the giver realize this they will find themselves in a relationship that transcends others. Take a minute everyday to thank your mate for everything they do for you.

Wrapping up Julie & Julia

Julie Powell was more worried about having to eat eggs when she first started her project than she was about having to eat brains. I don't think aspic even occured to her at the time, yet she forged ahead, plunging headlong into a project that no amatuer chef had ever gone before. It is just this that made her project so fascinating. She didn't skip recipes that would seem too gross, and she set a deadline and stuck to it. When she fell behind due to bathroom mishaps, or loss of water, or maggots (yes, maggots!) she figured she would just have to make up for lost time, rather than adjusting her deadline. I think some of my students could take a lesson from her. The deadline is firm, everything else must adjust. That being said, I can't even imagine taking on something like she did even though I've already eaten eggs, and brains, and I have a bigger kitchen and a dishwasher (I mean an automatic one, not my husband). I do have something she has though, which would allow me to undertake just about any project I put my mind to - a supportive husband.

Thanks, James. I love you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A sad change to my profile

The "about me" section of my profile indicates that I have a dog, a rabbit and fish. Yesterday our sweet bunny, Niki, died. She is buried in our backyard.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Say it isn't so

Well, it's a good thing Julie Powell inspired a whole new generation of French chefs. According to this New York Times article there is a dearth of good French restaurants in the city. Those of us who live in and around Bridgewater, Massachusetts are used to not having good French restaurants and know we will just have to get our own copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and fix up our own helpings of haute cuisine.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Book

I finally got a copy of A Year Without "Made in China" by Sara Bongiorni after my second Interlibrary loan attempt. This copy comes to me by way of the Snow Library in Orleans, Massachusetts. I've got nine days before the end of the year. I should be able to finish it in time.

For a preview see this video.

Selling Out - Wrapping up Sold Out!

I guess all us baby boomers do it at some point, selling out, I mean.

Since James and I were born at the tail end of the baby boom (1963 & 1964 respectively) we were among the last to do it. The picture is us in 1986 (it only looks like 1968!) back when we tread lightly on the earth because we couldn't afford to do otherwise. And even though we drove a complete pig of a vehicle - a 1970 International Scout (James, correct me if I'm wrong on the year) we couldn't afford to drive it anywhere. Idealists? You bet! We were out to save the world from itself. We spent most of the first ten years of our marriage with one or both of us in graduate school. Young liberals in love. To say money was tight is an understatement. I once got mad at James because he had an evening snack of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after we'd already had dinner, and I was worried that we would run out of food before the rent came due. April is not the cruelest month - it's February which has the fewest days before you have to come up with rent again. I remember thinking I would never take a plane trip again because I couldn't imagine ever being able to afford one again.
Like Llewellyn we are now solidly "middle class". Of course most people think they are middle class, even those like Llewellyn who have two homes, and three television sets, and nine computers. I would like point out that we have only one home, one television set and two computers and be a bit holier than Llewellyn, but the fact is we could probably afford to have as much as he does if we really wanted to. Unlike Llewellyn though, we have about as much job security as one can have - James and I both have tenure at a State College. Llewlleyn never knows where his next job is coming from. James and I moved a lot in the first 10 years of our marriage. It was always an adventure. Twelve years ago we came to Bridgewater to take a job, our daughter was born here, and now the prospect of picking up and moving somewhere else is just too adventuresome for us.
I am intrigued by those who give up spending. I have been following the "My Year Without Spending Blog" and have read of others who went on a year-long spending fast. I imagine I could do it, too, as I actually hate to shop so it wouldn't be much of a challenge for me. I like to think, though, that I make my purchases with some thought behind them. Lists of thing to be purchased are made, and things are removed from them, or postponed indefinitely. I am glad to do this so that when I want to build a bathroom on the second floor of my house, for instance, I can pay for it without borrowing. I also know that no matter how much I attempt to lessen my footprint on the earth, there are "necessities" that come with living in America that most of the world can not even dream of having.
If, like me, you think you are middle-class check out the How Rich Are You? website. You will probably find, as I did, that you are really filthy, stinking rich.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Meta blogging

One of my very first posts (January 3) told of my favorite prefix "meta". There I used it to discuss "meta-reading" (reading about reading). I am thinking that with Julie Powell's book I have come full circle, and am now "meta blogging" (or blogging about blogging). Powell uses the prefix herself when writing about blogging about a phone call she received about her blog. "Here I was writing my blog, when I get a phone call from a major media outlet concerning their desire to do a piece about me and my blog. Which phone call I immediatey proceeded to write about in my blog. This is when it occured to me that things were starting to get a little meta."

Jumble sales-again

Something that I occasionally post about is how often I learn a new word in one book, and then see it in other books. Today's word is "jumble sale":, which I also discussed in my July 24 post. Llewellyn uses it in Sold Out! In my earlier post I guessed it was a British term, but both the authors (Mayes and Gilbert) who used it previously were from the U.S., although they were writing about traveling. Llewellyn is from the U.K. and in fact there are quite a few things in the book that I am not familiar with. He mentions quite a few television shows that I've never heard of. This books was published in the U.K. I suppose that other books I've read by British authors are edited for a U.S. audience when they are released here. I don't think this one has been released in the U.S. yet, which is why the ILL department had trouble finding a copy. Anyway, has anyone heard of a jumble sale?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sold Out!

Sold Out: How I Survived a Year of Not Shopping by Robert Llewellyn has finally arrived. I requested it from Interlibrary loan, and it turned out to be a pretty scarce book, so it was purchased through the ILL department and it will go into the circulating collection at Maxwell Library when I am finished reading with it. There are two people already on the waiting list!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The value of a library goes beyond money

I get most of my national news from National Public Radio, and the New York Times. Local news I get mostly from the Brockton Enterprise newspaper. When I have links to news stories on this blog I usually link to NPR or the Times. Today I will buck the trend and include a rare link to the Enterprise. Friday's editorial was about the value of a public library, which goes far beyond its monetary worth. My wonderful husband, James, was the first to comment on the Enterprise website about this piece.

December Internet Review of Books

This month's edition of the IRB features a short review of The We Generation by yours truly and a review of Mass Casualties by Adelene Ellenberg.

I am still waiting for either of the books I requested for December to come from Interlibrary loan. I am begining to wonder if I will need purchase them. It would be truly ironic if I had to buy the books I am reading during my "not shopping" themed month.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What else I read - Mass Casualties

Last month I wrote that I met Michael Anthony, a student at Bridgewater State College and author of Mass Casualties: A Young Medic's True Story of Death, Deception and Dishonor in Iraq. Anthony's "year of" book is not a stunt, like so many of them are (not that I'm knocking the stunt books, I clearly love them). The year he wrote about was decided for him, by the army, and so he writes in his memoir how a person copes when virtually all of his decisions are made for him. Sometimes he submits to the will of the army, other times he tries to find a way to push back, and in at least one case he finds allies who assist him at deception. At the end of the year he is concerned at how he will cope with returning to the "real world" after having had all major decisions made for him, and never having to worry about having food to eat or a place to sleep (he always had a "place" to sleep, but had no end of problems actually falling asleep there and became addicted to cigarettes, over the counter drugs, and prescription drugs all in the name of sleep). It is of course ironic that he also realizes that it was this year of being away that "made [him] a man", even as his decisions were made for him. It is of course ironic that soldiers fight for freedom even as they give theirs up, a fact which Anthony becomes quite intimate with.

Sexy food - Quail in Rose Petal Sauce

Anyone who has read Like Water for Chocolate (one of my favorite books), or seen the film (one of my favorite movies) undoubtably remembers the classic scene in which Gertrudis eats the meal of quail in rose petal sauce prepared by Tita for Pedro and becomes the vessel, through which all of the passion Tita put into the creating the dish, that only running off naked with a soldier on horseback can quench.

Julie Powell mentions that seeing the movie with her husband (then boyfriend) is what prompted her to cook in the first place. She wanted to make that dish for him. (Who wouldn't?) The meal did not turn out as planned. It never even made to Eric's mouth after Powell and her brother gave it a taste test. Powell seems to believe that it was because she did not understand that the recipe was "largely literary, i.e. fictional." However, I have made the dish, twice, and I can attest to the fact that it can be made to be quite delicious, and with the aphrodisiac qualities that made it famous. My recommendation for a perfect Valentine's day date: make the dish together, then watch the movie. I sent this idea to website where you can find the recipe, along with thousands of other romantic ideas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has created a Commercial-Free Holiday brochure with great ideas for making the holidays less about buying and getting and more about creativity and fun.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Gift of the Reference Librarian

Fellow librarian Jill Erikson of Falmouth Public Library shared these two stories in a recent edition of SEMLS (Southeastern Massachusetts Library System) Sightings newsletter about the importance of Reference Librarians.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What else I read - The ubiquitous book

When I mentioned to my friend Korin that I was reading Three Cups of Tea for our faculty book discussion she asked how it was and said that she felt like she didn't even need to read it herself because it was so ubiquitous. I understood what she meant. I hardly go a week without hearing about it. Our church started collecting money for Pennies for Peace after the church book club discussed the book a few years ago, and I have heard author Greg Mortenson's story in countless news sources. The edition of the book I read indicates that it is required reading for senior U.S. military commanders and has been used in hundreds of schools and universities for campus-wide reading programs and selected as the community-wide read in over two hundred communities (the likes of which Bridgewater, Massachusetts will join in the spring.) Ubiquitous indeed. Nevertheless, I recommend that one reads the book for oneself. There is much more to the story than one can learn from disconnected news stories, or interviews.

Not Spending and the Holidays

It is a hard thing not to spend during the holiday season. I've noticed that every year though the news media report the same types of stories throughout November, December and January. We can always count on a pre-Thanksgiving story about how retailers are hopeful that consumers will, well, consume this year and that year end figures will be good. "Good citizens" know that buying things will help the economy and the new media join in with the advertisers to let us know that we will surely miss out if we don't shop on Black Friday. We see pictures of folks lined up in the cold and dark to save a few dollars. Throughout December we are reminded that the retailers are "disappointed" (in us?) Then inevitably will be the January stories about how many people are maxed out on credit cards and we need to be more careful about our own spending.

I stopped (most) Christmas shopping years ago. Children (my daughter, and nieces and nephews) are the only ones on my list any more. My husband and I decided long ago that if there was something we wanted that we could afford we would simply buy it for ourselves and not worry about trying to find the right present during "gift giving" occasions. Some may find this unromantic, but it is not. Unromantic is buying a last minute gift that your partner won't use. We realize also that we give each other gifts of ourselves every day when we cook dinner, take out the trash, drive the carpool, and do the dishes. Acknowledging these gifts is an especially romantic gesture. They are things that are too easily taken for granted. As far as the rest of my family is concerned, well, they got over the fact that I don't buy them gifts. And when they realized they were off the hook for getting me anything they were happy to let the whole thing go. There were a few who seemed steamed over the fact that I didn't get them anything, even though I was up front about it, and told them not to get me anything either. I can understand that they didn't believe I was serious, and it only took one holiday season for them to see that I was.

For more ideas on simplifying the holidays see this website from the Center for the New American Dream.

December's theme

My theme for December is "Not Shopping". I have requested two books from Interlibrary loan (A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventures in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni and Sold Out: How I Survived a Year of Not Shopping by Robert LLewellyn) but I have not yet received either one. In the meantime I can recommend Judith Levine's book Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. Her book was one of the first "year of" books I read and helped to inspire this project. Levine and her partner find a lot of free things to do in New York (including going to the library!) and find at the end of the year that their outlook has changed. You can read Levine's blog here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wrapping up Plenty

The year is 2003 - I am helping my kindergartener in the bathtub when she asks "When will I be able to bring 'Lunchables' to school for my lunch?" "Never" I respond. "Why not" she wants to know. And so she learns more than probably any five-year olds wants to know about over-packaging, plastics, and waste. I do not even go into the high fat content and poor nutritional value. She is thoughtful for a moment then says "Well Karen's mother is stupid. Karen always brings lunchables to school." So, the last thing I need is for my daughter to tell someone in her class that her mother is stupid and I explain that she's not stupid, she just hasn't thought about things the same way we have. We try to live our lives by healthy and happy example, and hope that others see how beneficial our lifestyle is, not only to ourselves, but to others as well. and perhaps they will learn by our example. She accepts this and doesn't mention lunchables again.

When I read books like Smith and MacKinnons I am grateful that people like them will take on the burden of setting an example for people like me. I doubt I will ever go so deep into the local eating culture that I attempt what they did, but they have certainly taught me that I can do a lot more with the the harvest provided by my New England location. This summer I learned that I like beets. But I didn't use the tops. Maybe next year I will make an effort to find out how to prepare those. My local farmer provides recipes with my CSA and I have two shelves worth of cookbooks in my kitchen.

Like some of the other authors I've read this year, Smith and MacKinnon are changed by their experiment. They are not salivating as they await the first of spring so they can gorge on all they have missed out on. They have learned to enjoy what has become their diet, and have their usual breakfast the next morning. Although they gradually add back in some of the things they were missing to their diet, they maintain their focus on local foods. Additionally, the local food experiment added something new to their diet - meat. They started out by adding fish to what had been a purely vegetarian diet, and by the end of the year they eat red meat for the first time in almost two decades. What they have learned is to honor all food. They know the farmer who provided the beef, and have a lot more confidence that the meat does not contain harmful bacteria than they would had they bought it at a grocery store. For more information on "feedlot" beef read this story from the New York Times.

Find out more about Smith and MacKinnon's local eating project at

Frequently used memoir words.

In my November 27 post I marveled at seeing the word "boustrophedon" in two different books I read for this project. Eric Weiner spoke of eating harkl (rotten shark) in Iceland, and although I had never heard of it before then, the word came up again in Eat My Globe. On July 28 I mentioned that I had come to a place in both books I was reading (Weiner's and Gilbert's) about ashrams (another word I had never heard before). Harkl and ashram also both appear in Plenty - they actually appear on facing pages.

How to lose weight

Early in Smith and MacKinnon's local-eating experiment MacKinnon remarks to Smith "I think your ass fell off." She retorts "so did yours". Accoring to "Real Age" one of the best ways to lose weight is to "eat green" - local food with few ingredients. To find out more see this tip.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Two movies about local food

Yesterday I found out about a movie called The Garden about a community garden in Los Angeles and what the gardeners did when it was threatened to be closed. See the trailer at Later this month James and I will be going to Plimoth Plantation to see Fresh.

A new cookbook for locavores

For those so inclined to try an experiment like Smith and MacKinnon's, local ingredient guru Terry Walters has written a cookbook for you: Clean Food.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Internet Review of Books

The Holiday Gift Issue of the Internet Review of books is here! Gift ideas from many genres and a variety of ages are included. Scroll down to the cooking section for my suggestion.

Monday, November 30, 2009


James and I got to the "lobster part" of Julie & Julia last night. Julie is a bit squeamish at first about dumping the docile crustaceans into a boiling pot, and considers some other Julia-approved ways of offing them first, but finally decides just to chuck them in. With Christmas officially approaching (now that Thanksgiving is over) I am looking forward to our annual Christmas Eve lobster dinner with friends Lisa & Rob and their children. I must admit I have nothing to do with the actual cooking of the lobsters at our dinner. James and Rob go out to buy them, and Rob is usually in charge of the actual killing. I sit by the fire and drink red wine.

What's local to eat where you live?

James and I occasionally pick up a copy of Edible South Shore. This magazine has information about farms, farmer's markets, and other local food sources in our area. Stories, recipes and color photographs make this quarterly publication very appealing. Edible Communities publishes it as well as dozens of other similar publications for different places in the United States and Canada. To find out if there is an Edible Communities magazine for your area click here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A very local Thanksgiving

Well, really, a "somewhat" local Thanksgiving. James and I talked about preparing only local foods for Thanksgiving this year, and made what I would call a valient effort, but we discovered that it really is a very difficult thing to do. During their year of eating local MacKinnon and Smith use only ingredients that come from within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver, Canada. They give up salt and sugar and flour, among other ingredients, except for what was already in their home when they began their project.

The book contains a page-long passage about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving in which I learned that the feast we commemorate, which was back in 1621, probably consisted of "corn raised from Wampanoag seed, and five deer provided by the ninety visiting Wampanoag warriors, plus wild turkeys and other fowl, fish and shellfish, wild nuts and berries, and a local species of squash."

Our own Thanksgiving had some elements of this, sans the seafood, deer, squash and corn. Our turkey, while not "wild" was free-range raised and came from the Colchester farm in Plympton, Massachusetts. It was butchered on Tuesday, and delivered quite fresh to our door on Wednesday. The delivery was actually just lucky. Ron Maribett, who runs the farm, also teaches part-time at Bridgewater State College and told us he would drop it off since he had to come out our way to teach that day anyway. We also had green beans and peas from Colchester farm, as well as the celery that James used in the stuffing. I had frozen all of these vegetables over the summer when they came in our CSA farm box. Even more local, Hanson farm, here in Bridgewater, about 2 miles from our house, provided us with the cranberries, from which I made dressing, and the eggs and onions which were used as ingredients in several dishes. The apples used in the stuffing were from Clark Bros. Orchards in Ashfield, Massachusetts, and the apple cider came from C.N. Smith farm in East Bridgewater. For dessert I made pumpkin pie from scratch. The pumpkin originally came from Colchester farm. I had cut out the flesh and frozen it last month and then thawed and pureed it on Wednesday and Thursday. I have enough puree for my Christmas pie, too. This is good, since I learned today on NPR that there is a pumpkin shortage. Plus, I have another whole pumpkin that I am cutting the flesh from today to freeze for later.The crust was made with flour from King Arthur flour in Vermont.

We opened two bottles of wine yesterday. The first one, a Rkatsiteli (yes, that is spelled correctly!) came from Westport Rivers Winery in Westport, Ma. The other, a sparkling red wine, came from Australia. I don't guess anything could be any further away from Bridgewater Massachusetts than that. I will say that we already had it in our wine rack since last spring. I will further justify it by saying that we did support a local business, The Wine Palace, in West Bridgewater when we bought it, and that we purchased it during a fundraiser for the Bridgewater Public Library, which, I will point out once again, is in dire straits.

This Thanksgiving the Hayes-Bohanan's dined alone. We had no guests. Sometimes we have company for Thanksgiving, and sometimes we go to a friend's house, but this year it was just the three of us. I often hear people with small families say that they eat out on Thanksgiving because they just don't see a reason to cook a big meal for a small family. I argue that my family, however small, is worth the effort to cook the meal. It is a holiday, a special occasion that warrants a big meal. We all helped to cook this meal and we all enjoyed it, and will enjoy the leftovers for the next week or so. We also got our the good silver, (yes, for just the three of us, because we are worth it). I try to use the silver at least once a month. It never gets tarnished if it is used regularly. We also (almost) always eat in our dining room. It is very rare that we would eat in our kitchen.

Things that were not from local sources included any sugar or spices used, and some of the other baking ingredients, the walnuts I used in the green beans, and, ironically, the potatoes my daughter mashed. It would actually have been pretty easy to get local potatoes, but I couldn't see buying them when we already had a whole bunch at home. (MacKinnon and Smith talk about eating a lot of potatoes in their book, too.) Like the potatoes, most things that did not come from a local source were things we already had on hand. I think James bought two or three things specifically to make the stuffing that may or may not have come from local sources.

So, all in all, not what a real locavore would call a local meal, but I'm giving us a pass on this one.

Will wonders never cease?

Readers who have been with me since the beginning of the year no doubt remember my January 7 post, in which I lament not ever having seen or heard the word "bustophredalian" since my map cataloging class many years ago. And then you rejoiced with me merely week later when, in my January 14 post, I mention that I found the word in A.J. Jacob's book The Know-It-All and discovered that I had been spelling it wrong. Well, I have to say now that my "year of" project is really paying off in spades because the word also appears in Plenty! Co-authors MacKinnon and Smith go blueberry picking with a little red wagon while "moving up and down the rows, boustrophedon stye..."

And to think some people got their thrills today from shopping.

Black Friday

I am home in my pajamas on this Friday after Thanksgiving. I am so glad not to be the sort of person to get up and shop on this day. Standing in line on a cold, dark, and rainy morning is not my idea of a good time. We have been celebrating "Buy Nothing Day" for about 15 years. This "holiday" was started by Kalle Lasn in the 1980s. And, it turns out there is a connection to all of this with Plenty, which I did finally start reading, co-author J.B. MacKinnon used to work for Adbusters, which sponsors Buy Nothing Day. This morning after our morning coffee James made us some turkey omlets. We will take care of some projects around the house today and enjoy some time together.

For more on Black Friday see Angela's post on the Great American Sleep In on her Year without Spending blog and read my sermon on The Best Gift.

By the way (Not) Shopping will be my theme for December's books.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Locavore Hunting

Okay, so I still haven't started reading Plenty, perhaps tonight if I don't get too busy with Thanksgiving preparations. By the way, my family and I will be having a Thanksgiving dinner made (mostly) from local indgredients, so I will make a separate post about that afterwards. In the meantime, I found this video on the NewYork Times website about deer hunting for locavore foodies.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

National Day of Listening

The American Library Association, National Public Radio, and StoryCorps are sponsoring The National Day of Listening on Friday November 27. Instead of shopping, spend some time with a family member or friend and learn about each other.

Book Review

Last weekend I was away in New Orleans and have not yet had a chance to start Plenty. While on the plane, I did finish reading The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids by Michael Unger which I will be reviewing for the Internet Review of Books in December. I forgot to post about my November review for Watercooler which can be found here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Support for Libraries

On November 5 the Brockton Enterprise ran this story about the Bridgewater Public Library. It seems things will get worse before they get better. I saw the story before I realized that my wonderful husband James had commented on it already.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Book

My next book for November is Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. It comes to me by way of the Falmouth Public Library. I think it will be more my speed than Eat This Book was.

Wrapping up Nerz

It is rare that I will just say that I didn't like a book, but I had a hard time finishing this one. I probably would have put it down pretty early on, if it weren't for my project. I found this book sophmoric in its overused scatological descriptions, as well as providing too much information on other bodily functions. Tales of strip club visits and porn-movie fests complete this juvenile picture.

I mention in an earlier post that I don't consider competitive eating a sport. I had not yet gotten to the chapter called "The Nader Dispute: For and Against Competitive Eating as a Sport" in which Nerz spends 9 pages defending the sport, and attacking Ralph Nader, and others for contending that it is not. I suppose if it is that important for those in the world of competitive eating to consider it a sport, I won't argue as it makes no difference to me. It's not as if professional sports such as baseball, football, hockey, or any of the other more "traditional" sports hold any of my interest either. This disinterest in sports in general is probably part of the reason the book didn't capture much of my attention. So many of the chapters were the stories of individual eating competitions, and I just wasn't into the drama. I was completely unconcerned with who won, or who qualified, or didn't, or why.

The chapter continues with questions about whether competitive eating is gluttony, a waste of food, and if it is a sign of American overconsumption. He does concede some of these points, but also defends them, as if since America is competitive in so many things this must be okay too. Is competition and consumption good just because it is part of our culture?

He does not fully explore the question of competitive eating as a waste of food except to call those who consider it such "bleeding heart[s]", and to point out that someone who thinks that wouldn't consider "NASCAR a waste of fuel." Ummm...yes, NASCAR is a waste of fuel. To be fair I will point out that the IFCOE does donate to Second Harvest and the Hurricane Katrina relief.

On several occasions Nerz claims that competitive eating is an equal opportunity sport because a few women compete on the circuit. He profiles two women "guritators", as they are called, and both are described as quite thin and feminine-looking. On the other hand, he profiles quite a few men and body types of all shapes and sizes are celebrated in them. I somehow doubt a large woman would last very long on the ciruit, even if she were a champion eater. A look at the IFOCE website "meet the eaters" has two women out of twenty, hardly "equal" opportunity.

There was no mention of libraries in this book, there was, however, a mention of Unitarians. Nerz puts on "one of those collars that priests wear" in order to impersonate a Unitarian minister as part of a stunt. He he stumbles his way around issues in the Old Testament and last rites to the crowd gathered to see "Crazy Legs Conti" eat his way out of a popcorn sarcophagus. To be sure, we Unitarians have many beliefs and our ministers have any number of ways of expressing their vocation, so I am sure there are some who use the "dickeys", and probably those who will administer last rites when asked. I hope he wasn't really trying to fool anyone though, perhaps not. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. On another spirtual matter though, guritator "Ikeda feel[s] that his stomach has its own soul". Nerz"believe[s] this [possiblity] has some basis in truth, [and] would shatter all notions of eating competitions as mere exercises in gluttony." I am not ready to make such a leap of faith.

Finally, Nerz got under my skin by using two of my "pet peeves of writing". First he uses "fast-forward" to indicate time passage. This is just overused. Can we all please agree not to use this one anymore? And secondly he says "Drew Cerza and Lon both didn't (emphasis mine) seem to notice. I have seen this awkward construction more and more of late. It sounds so much smoother to say "neither Drew nor Lon seemed to notice". Let us remember that negatives can be our friends.

I am sure Nerz will have his fans, as competitive eating truly does have a large following. For those who are tickled by tales of poopy pants, and vomit that looks like "milk shakes" this book will no doubt amuse. It takes all kinds.

Monday, November 16, 2009

12 books 12 months Conspiracy 365

This new series doesn't actually look like it's my cup of coffee, so I probably won't read it myself, but it fits the theme of my blog and I'm sure others will be interested. The November 2 issue of Publisher's Weekly features a cover about Conspiracy 365. A series that will be published one book a month for 12 months and the story takes place over the period of one year. Its target audience is ages 10-15.

Featured Chef

I must give a plug to my budding foodie husband, James. He is currently the featured chef at Fast Recipes
The queso dip does have bang for the buck!

Of musty books and good food smells

The first mention Julie Powell makes of libraries is on page 32 (I don't know if there are others, having only read to page 106 so far). She says "...I flipped through the book [Mastering the Art of French Cooking], trying to pronouce all the French words under my breath. An old smell came off the pages, musty but not like library books. More like a dog or a forest floor, something damp and warm and living. The words, and the smell, reminded me of something-but what it was I couldn't at first figure out...."
[several paragraphs follow in which there is a clear connection between sensuality and food]
"It sounded weird. It also sounded kind of well, dirty."
"I suddenly remembered exactly what the book reminded me of."

So, as is my wont, I had this passage marked so I could blog about it, after all, it is about libraries. And then, today, purely by coincedence, my boss sent the following story about why musty books smell like they do.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bobby Brady and the Kartoon King

Competitive Eating began with local contests. The IFOCE (The International Federation of Competitive Eating) did not get involved until much later. Nerz mentions some of the roots of the "sport" including pie-eating contests in which the contestants were not allowed use their hands. This brought to mind my favorite show when I was a kid - The Brady Bunch. During the Brady Bunch's second season there is just such a scene in an episode called "The Winner". It has the oh-so-original plotline in which a young sibling feels bad because he has no trophy. (How many television shows used that one in the 60s & 70s?) In this case Bobby enters an ice cream eating contest on the "Kartoon King" show hoping to win a golden spoon trophy. Spoons are taken away and the kids go at their ice cream like pigs in a trough. Although Bobby doesn't win this one, you can be sure that by the end of the episode he has his trophy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Movie picks of the month

I recommend the classic Bill Murray flick Meatballs as a companion movie to Eat This Book. The competitive hot-dog-eating scene near the end is part of an end-of-summer "Olympics" with two rival camps competing. I think of sports when I think of the Olympics, and I don't think of competitive eating as a sport, but apparently many do. By the way a new Meatballs is being remade for release next year. My other movie suggestion is Stand By Me a coming-of-age film in which the competitive eating sequence is a story within the story, with a very high gross-out factor, told a 12-year old lad to his chums. His story features a competitive eater named "Lardass."

A Very Special Bookmobile

Luis Soriano takes books to the children of La Gloria, Colombia each week by donkey, a program called "Biblioburro" or Library Donkey. Some of the children use the books to do research for their homework, others just want to read for pleasure. He says by bringing the children books they learn about their rights and duties, and that in turn, teaches them to say no to war. This story truly hit home for me because James, Paloma and I hosted Martha Lucia Giraldo from the organization Witness for Peace in our home this week. She spoke at Bridgewater State College on extra-judicial killings in Colombia.

Michael Anthony

I mentioned in my November 2 post that I had just found out about a book written by Bridgewater State College student, Michael Anthony, called Mass Casualties. Last night I had the priveldge of meeting Mr. Anthony who was signing books at the Wine Palace in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. I broke rule number 2 (as described in my very first post); however, I have no regrets about buying a brand new copy of this book. I now have my own autographed copy, and all proceeds of last night's sales went to the Boston vet center, "which provides readjustment counseling, PTSD counseling and outreach services to all veterans". Plus, I got to sample some great wine. Michael Anthony was interviewed for the Bridgewater State College newslog. Find out more here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ooh la la

One nice thing about reading Julie & Julia out loud to James is that there are a fair number of French words in the book, and that means I get to show off my superior French accent (superior to James', that is). Any bit of French makes us a nostalgic because James and I met in French class back in 1983 at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I don't actually remember meeting him, he was just someone I knew from French class, who, alors, already had une petite amie. Zut! Here we are 26 years later though, and tres amoreuses. I ended up taking French through some advanced level courses, but I think James stopped at the 101 class in which we met. Although we speak Spanish and Portuguese with some frequency now, we almost never use our French. I think the last time we really had to give it a work out was in 2001 when we needed to ask for a camping spot while we were in Montreal, Canada. With the help of the pretty-good English of one of the park employees, we managed.

The Belt of Fat Theory

Why is it that a person who weighs less than 150 pounds can handily beat a 400 pound bruiser in competetive eating? One theory is the "belt of fat". The skinny challenger does not have any fat pressing up against his stomach and therefore has more room. Popular Science had this to say about it. Hey, it's just a theory.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Two down

In my post of November 2 I related that I had quite a few books come to me at the same time. I have read and reviewed Watercooler (watch for it in the upcoming issue of the Internet Review of Books) and finished and blogged about Life's That Way. Additionally, James and I are several chapters into Julie & Julia (posts soon to follow). So, my next solo book is Ryan Nerz's Eat This Book. I've read 25 pages so far, and already I want to vomit. No so much from the nasty descriptions of people making gluttonous spectacles of themselves, but rather from discovering that competitive eating as a spectator sport even exists in a world where so many are starving.

Wrapping up "Life's THAT Way"

So, it turns out that I was reading the title of this one wrong. I assumed it was a phrase to be said with a shoulder shrug - kind of a fatalistic view of things (that's the way things are; you can't change them). But in fact, the title should be said with the stress on the word "that". It is actually a direction, a command to move ahead.

Cynic that I am, I think I only used about dozen kleenex reading this book. Others will need many more. Jim Beaver is alternately serious, funny and emotional in this one-year journey which chronicles his wife's cancer diagnosis and death, and his personal grieving as he realizes he will be raising his very young daughter alone, and the bittersweet feelings he has of seeing her reach new milestones knowing that Cecily would have thrilled to share them.

The book is a series of e-mails Beaver started sending out to friends when Cecily was first diagnosed to let them know what was happening to her health, and how her treatments were going. The messages progress into reflections on life, death, love, and grieving and although he claims to hold back on some of his emotions and honest feelings, it certainly does not seem so to the reader.

When I embarked on this "year of" project I expected all the books I chose would be of the "shtick lit" genre - a term I just learned from Library Journal meaning "a stuntlike project undertaken for the purpose of writing about it" (see the review for Memoir: A History in the link above). A.J. Jacobs comes immediately to mind. It is also essentially what this blog is. But I discovered that some of the books recounted "accidental" years. There wasn't a plan, writing was done in hindsight. Joan Didion and Jon Katz are two that I think of here. In Beaver's case, there was no plan to send messages to friends for a year, but he stopped at the year anniversary - about 8 months after Cecily's death. The writing took place in "real time", as a "year of" project would, but the intention was not the same. He was reporting to friends and acquaintances, not writing a book. He points out in his last entry he is moving on "...from the procedure begun unwittingly (emphasis mine) a year ago...". So neither a project book, nor a hindsight book, a new sub-genre all together.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

There is always a way to make a library connection

I do not recall reading anything about libraries in this work. I try to mark any page on which I find a reference to libraries, or librarians, so I can create an separate post about it. I have no such markers for this book. Not to worry. I made a connection anyway, weak though it is:

Jim Beaver was married to Cecily Adams, daughter of the actor Don Adams, known best to me as Maxwell Smart, Secret agent 86 from the TV series Get Smart. The library I work in is the Clement C. Maxwell Library. A few years ago the marketing students on campus came up with a marketing slogan for us: "Get Smart - at the Max" (groans all around).

I actually wrote a draft of this post when I was only partially through through the book, I didn't publish it at the time because I thought it was still possible that a library mention would show up by the end, but also because I wasn't sure if it seemed a bit disrespectful. I decided it was okay when I read a passage about Beaver's young daughter Maddie making a play on the words taxes and Texas. He begins to wonder if "bad puns are genetic", and if so "[h]e know[s] his papa is smiling proudly, for there were few things he loved more than a bad pun."


In addition to his wife's (actress Cicely Adams) cancer, Jim Beaver writes about his own father's failing health; his father-in-law (actor Don Adams') poor health; a health crisis for his brother-in-law; and his mother-in-law's fall which results in a broken arm. All of this in the first four chapters.

I nodded to myself as Beaver described his own family's manner of communicating health concerns "Numerous times in recent years I've found out that somebody fell off the house or had something amputated or was diagnosed with Glaubner's disease not when it happened, but days, weeks, even months later."

It is also the way of my people to assume that someone else will tell me, the one who does not live in Maryland, what is going on in our family. As if to prove the point, shortly after reading this passage I received an e-mail from my husband, who had forgotten to give me the message he received from my sister (his BFF on Facebook) the night before that my mother was having surgery that day "you knew about this, right"? was the tagline of my sister's original message. Of course we didn't know. Who would have told us? I laughed with my sister about the "Hayes way" when I called her last night.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Libraries Cure Ignorance

Earlier this week author Tracy Kidder visited the Cohasset, Massachusetts High School and had this to say.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A feast of books

On Friday I received the first of my November books, Eat This Book: A Year of Gorging on the Competitive Eating Circuit by Ryan Nerz (which came to me by way of Canton (Massachusetts)Public Library). This was a little upsetting to my anal-retentive sensibilities because I had not yet read two books on health for October. I was really hoping that one of the other books I requested for October would have come in by the end of the week so I could read it over the weekend. Alas, my second October book - Life's That Way: A Memoir by Jim Beaver - did not arrive until Sunday, and I picked it up this morning. (I have the good folks at the Reading (Massachusetts) Library to thank for it). Meanwhile, my friend Nancy stopped by my office late Friday afternoon and dropped off her copies of Julie & Julia by Julie Powell and Julia Child's My Life in France (For those who didn't catch on, November's theme is eating). Additionally, over the weekend my editor from the Internet Review of Books dropped off two books at my house for me to review. So, my plan is this: I need to review one of the books (Watercooler by Elizabeth Sanchez) by November 8. This shouldn't be a problem as it is pretty short (112 pages) so I will start on that one right away. I will also start Life's That Way and try to get a posting up ASAP so as not to get too far behind on my November books. Julie & Julia is the read-aloud book I will read with James, so it will probably spill over into December. The Julia Child book is not a "year of" book, so it can wait. When I am finished with my October book I will start on Eat This Book. My other review is not due until early December.
Today, I also found out about another book I will put on my list for later: Mass Casualties by Michael Anthony. Anthony spent a year as a medic in Iraq. He is also a student at Bridgewater State College.

Friday, October 30, 2009

International Children's Digital Library

I have my friend Juliana from Brazil to thank for providing me with this link for the International Children's Digital Library. As a bilingual librarian, this is just the sort of thing that excites me. This site features e-books for children in many languages. The "search by country" feature allows the user to turn a virtual globe in order to pick books from specific country or region. After books, and coffee, globes are one of my favorite things. See my husband James' Earth View blog for information about his gigantic globe project.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fun with catalog cards

Who remembers the card catalog? Once a staple of any library - public, school, academic, or other - almost all have given up the old drawer and file system now, in favor of an online catalog. The Library at the University of South Carolina is holding a contest to see who can come up with the most creative uses of the old catalog cards.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wrapping up the Miller Brothers

James and I finished Either You're In or You're In the Way yesterday. I think James was a little bit sad to see it end. He had mentioned at one point that he didn't know when he enjoyed a book so much, and he loves to read.

A quote from actor Ed Harris on the cover of the book says "What the Miller Brothers have accomplished is nothing short of miraculous. You've got to read it to believe it." Miraculous is not even a strong enough word for this. I told James at one point while reading that if this had been a fiction book I would have put it down a long time ago, probably snorting that it wasn't believable at all. One of the early chapters of the book is called "100 percent luck" and tells of finding out that a friend of theirs has just signed on with the Colorado Rockies baseball team and how many things fell into place because of it, including getting essential video footage for their trailer. Throughout the book one thing after another falls into place for them, even as they lose sleep worrying about getting funding for the movie, scheduling the filming, and hiring crew. One of the last pieces of good luck they have is ending up sitting with a friend of one of the Colorado Rockies managers at a wedding, as they worry about being sued by the ball club. When they tell the guy their tale of woe, it is fixed the next day.

I mentioned in an early post about this book that the brothers do everything together. The book itself is a team effort, and what I found remarkable was that it is seamless. The reader cannot tell where one voice stops and another starts. It is written mostly in the third person, as if there is a separate entity called "LoganNoah" doing the narrating. LoganNoah is very funny and had us breaking up over lines like "...Bao and trusty Claytus immediately jumped in Jeromiah's convertible Porshe and drove 120 mph back to the hotel... "When they returned , Bao and Claytus looked like they'd just had face-lifts. Their hair was iron straight and launched back. They've never looked so young." They make a play on the classic Pogo comic line "We have met the enemy and he is us" with "We needed a solution and the solution was us."

The final section of the book tells of filming in their hometown in Northern California, and the additional headaches it brings because all the friends and neighbors drive by and honk their horns, and then stop to eat all the catered food. My thought was that they probably should have filmed in Bridgewater. We had a film crew here in town last month for two days to shoot a scene from some secret project called "Witchita" with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Not only were the streets leading up to the filming closed to anyone who didn't live on them, every phone in town (home, business, government) was called with a long recorded message explaining about the filming. The gist of the message can be boiled down to "there's a party in town, and you're not invited." If Touching Home turns out to be as great as the book, maybe they will have the clout to shoot here next time, and they can get the same treatment. By the way, I know of two other movies filmed in Bridgewater A Small Circle of Friends which actually takes place at Harvard, but the riot scene was filmed at Bridgewater State College. The other movie is the infamous documentary Titicut Follies which was filmed inside the state hospital in Bridgewater. It is a hard movie to watch, and was banned for years as a violation of the patients' rights.

What else I read

I recently finished reading Population: 485 by Michael Perry. The subtitle of the book is "Meeting your neighors one siren at a time" referring to his work as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. He works on a team with his mother and three brothers. I actually had Perry's book Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting on my list of potential books to read for this project, and when I was visiting my cousin in Wisconsin (Perry's home state) I noticed the book at her house and asked if I could borrow it. She was still reading it, but offered Population: 485 instead, which she had already finished. I couldn't read it right away because as soon as I moved it near our luggage James picked it up and started reading it. Anyway, we both enjoyed the book. Perry grew up up on a farm in rural northwestern Wisconsin, moved away and then came back. His writing is both eloquent and funny, which mirrors his personality - split between the rugged farmer/EMT/deer hunter side and the sensitive writer/nurse side. The photograph included with the author biography in the book shows any character you might run into at a bar in Wisconsin - an unsmiling man in a hunting cap and flannel jacket. He seems to have created a real persona. I am looking forward to reading Coop, but it looks like I may not get to it this year. I think I will read it during my next "year of" project "Celebrating the States". I will read one book from each state as part of the 2010 project.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wrapping up The Addict

Michael Stein's book follows one patient's treatment for drug addiction for one year, starting with the day she came to his office asking to be prescribe buprenorphine. There is nothing magical that happens at the one year mark in this story. Lucy Fields has had some successes and failures during the previous 12 months, at the time the record ends she has been sober for some time without a relapse, but is not yet willing to go off the buprenorphine. She has had some breakthroughs, and there is definitely reason to be optimistic about her continued recovery. Stein mentions at the end that he continued to work with her for several more years, with language indicating that she was still his patient. Recovery for addicts is a relative term. Some say alcoholics and drug addicts are never completely recovered. Others would argue that after some extented period of sobriety they can be considered cured. I heard a story once about how alcoholics are treated in the UK and it did not require complete abstinence. Those in recovery were taught to become "social drinkers" again. They went to a pub or other public place and had one or two drinks with their sponsors. I don't remember what I heard about the success rate.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Drug Recovery in the NYT

Yesterday's New York Times featured this article about a new drug recovery treatment program in Philadelphia. Detox (short term hospitalization to get the drug out of the system) is a common treatment, with a very high recidivism rate (over 90%). The program in Phildephia emphasizes after care as well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Author Hour

I just learned about the new program The Author Hour. It is a radio program of author interviews. It appears to be all fiction authors, mostly of the fantastic or science ficiton genre. I haven't listened to it myself yet, but perhaps since I've read some of the works mentioned on the homepage I will probably take some time this weekend to hear some of it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Oxycontin Express

The subject of The Addict, Lucy Fields, is addicted to Vicodin which is prescribed for pain relief. Oxycontin is a narcotic, also prescribed for pain relief, which is also highly addictive. It is the one I hear about in the news most frequently. There are stories about pharmacies that no longer carry it because they have been robbed by people desperate to get their hands on it. It is essentially legalized heroin. Yesterday I received this link from my friend Michael Lunquist at the Polus Center for Social and Economic Development about prescription drug addiction. The video is about 47 minutes long.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fair Bananas

I have mentioned my huband James' work with Fair Trade coffee on my blog. I learned more about Fair Trade recently when I read and reviewed the book Fair Bananas by Henry Frundt. You can read my review on the Internet Review of Books.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What's your addiction?

Michael Stein quotes a nutrition column in an unnamed women's magazine as saying "everyone's looking for a fix." He further states "Almost anything can be the object of addiction, and most people are addicted to something." Hmm...well, what I am addicted to? I had to stop reading and think about it for a while. I thought about the soap operas I used to watch (As the World Turns, and General Hospital) in the early 80s. Easy enough to give up once the plots got too outrageous even for melodramas (a weather machine?! c'mon!). My high school and college experiments with drugs didn't go very far. Alcohol? Wine with dinner hardly counts as an addiction. I imagine any regular reader to my blog figured it out before I did - Coffee it is. I will count this as an official addiction because if I miss my morning cups (usually 2-3) I experience withdrawl symptoms. I get jittery, and I get headaches. I must say, though, that since I will only drink good coffee that I prefer these discomforts to having a crappy cup 'o joe. What's your addiction?

Borrowing books in borrowed spaces

WBUR is the NPR affiliate in Boston. This morning WBUR reported on a group of innovators who are using an abandoned store front in Chinatown as a "fleeting" library branch. The library will be open for 3 months as an experiment. To find out more click here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pam in Bookforum

I was thrilled to find out that my essay "Rubbing Elbows with the Authors" was picked up by the Bookforum blog. Click on the words "write a note to the author."

A book a day for 365 days

Yesterday's New York Times featured this story about Nina Sankovitch who is about to wrap up her own "year of books" quest of reading one book a day for a year. She began on her last birthday, October 28. She blogs at Looking over her list I found five books that I have read.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz - This was listed as one of her favorites. Junot Diaz spoke here at Bridgewater State College last October.

A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind - Also one of her favorites

Scat by Carl Hiaasen

Twilight by Stephanie Meyers - She has not read the others in this series because of her one-book-per-author rule.

When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris - She had a very different opinion of his book than I did. My review for the Internet Review of Books can be found here.

It does not appear that she has read any "year of" books, so none of her books overlap with anything on this blog.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Art in the Library

As public spaces, libraries can become much more than a places to read a book, or use a computer, they can become thriving community centers - places for lectures, meetings, poetry readings, or art exhibits. A few years ago The Clement C. Maxwell Library started making proactive efforts to have a series of art exhibits year round. Right now we have artwork from Professor John Hooker's study tour to Tanzania. Today I found out that The Howard County (Maryland) Public Library will be displaying sculpture by artist, and renaissance man, John Hayes (my father) through October 30. Read more about my father in the Laurel Gazette.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

October's theme - and a new book

I was starting to wonder if my next book would ever arrive. And it came today, just as I finished up with Sikes' book.

As our country engages in another health care debate (I have my doubts that there will be any significant change) I have chosen Health as my theme for October. My first book is The Addict: One Patient, One Doctor, One Year by Dr. Michael Stein. It is the story of a woman in treatment for addiction to prescription drugs. The copy I received came to me by way of the Waltham Public Library. The book just came out in March of this year.

I will begin blogging about this book soon. In the meantime, I recommend this Frontline series with T.R. Reid about healthcare around the world

Librarians Change Lives

Story Corps is a special program of National Public Radio in which people tape interviews their loved ones to be archived. Last Friday NPR ran this interview between a young woman and her father. The father relates a tale about how stealing a school library book changed his life.

Wrapping up Sikes

Yesterday, just before I finished reading Sikes' book I read this article in the New York Times about a new violence intervention program in Chicago which targets at risk children.

Sikes' book begins with a description of "TJ" getting ready for, and executing, her first revenge kill. The book then takes the reader into a world in which this kind of killing is normalized. Poverty, lack of education, or adequate health care, all contribute to creating this world, in which sexual abuse is also normalized. Children as young as ten or eleven are raped by stepfathers, boyfriends, or rival gang members, and accept it as a part of life. It is a world in which becoming a teenage mother actually may represent a chance for improvement in one's life. When the young women become mothers the responsibility they have for their child marginalizes them from their gang, and, in some cases, they eventually mature out of it all together. In TJ's case the church saved her.

The girls and young women whom Sikes interviewed often thought that their boyfriend's jealous rages were how they showed they cared for them. This, too, was all part of normal for them.

In her Afterword, Sikes compares the cost of imprisonment for a child ($32,000 in the early '9os) with the amount spent on education each year in California (about $4,000). She says "I believe society has an obligation to save its children, simply because they are children." Until we, as a society, are willing to throw enough money at education, health care and other programs for children and families, we are spouting only rhetoric. We like to say we care about children, but in many cases we have given up hope for the most vulnerable.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October is National Information Literacy Awareness Month

I am pleased that President Barak Obama sees the value of the work that librarians do. He has proclaimed October National Information Literacy Awareness Month. Information Literacy is the bulk of my job at Bridgewater State College. BSC is a teaching college, and my job is to teach people to use the library effectively to become lifelong learners. Sometimes I do formal sessions for classes to demonstrate how to do research for a specific assignment, and other times the work is less formal and involves answering questions. It is rare that I will simply look up an answer for someone. I am more likely to show them how to find it themselves. To learn more about information literacy see the webpage from the Association of College and Research Libraries.

October is also
National Book Month
National Medical Librarian Month
International School Library Month
National Reading Group Month
Vegetarian Month (My daughter is a vegetarian)
Adopt a Shelter Dog Month (our dog is a pound dog)
National Family Sexuality Education Month (especially interesting to me because my husband and I just attended the parents meeting for the Our Whole Lives course our daughter will be taking)

There are actually many, many more October celebrations.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Any mention of a library...

...warrants its own post!
Sikes, interviews a girl named Alicia who "absently picked up a library card off the end table. 'God', she whispered, tracing her sister's name in raised letters with her finger, 'I wish I had a library card." The former "Best Reader" from the third grade had "racked up so many fines for overdue library books that she was frightened to go back." Sikes offers to take her to a bookstore, and eventually, over a year later, she is taken up on the offer does buy some books for Alicia. If Sikes were planning on spending money anyway, I'm not sure why she just didn't take Alicia to the library and offer to pay any outstanding fines.

Getting a library card is like finding money, you can read all you want for free, as long as you return the books on time. I suspect Alicia could have made some sort of deal with the library to pay the fines over time, or even be granted amnesty. It is always good to ask.

The "safe" side of town

James and I are enjoying reading the Miller brothers book. Part III of their book "Desert Shoot-Out" takes place in Tucson, Arizona, where we lived for four year in the early 1990s. Reid Park is a municipal park where spring training takes place for the Colorado Rockies. (I think when we lived there it was the Cleveland Indians training camp). It is also home to the minor league team, the Tucson, Toros. Writing about filming the Rockies during their spring training gave James and me an opportunity to take a nostalgia trip. Their description of the "transitional housing" on East Twenty-Second street reminded us of a visit from my father. We told him we would make a reservation for him at a hotel, and he told us to make sure that it was not on the south of Twenty-second street, which he had heard was dangerous the dangerous part of town. We booked a room in an efficiency apartment that had weekly rates which was one block south of Twenty-second street. We assured my father that it was really on the East end of town (safe) and not the south side at all. After his first night there we went pick him up and found the parking lot full of police cars. He reported to us that there had been a shooting there. It turned out to be a suicide attempt, but it was no less distressing for my father who woke to find the hotel surrounded by police cars. I swear, it really was the safe side of town.

San Antonio

I found Sike's section on gangs in San Antonio much more shocking than the L.A. section. The violence took many forms, but one of the most common was gang rape, which neither the perpetrators or the victims saw as such. One reason for this is that, as one (male) gang member put it "the girls have a choice of initiations: (A) fighting one-on-one with a guy for two minutes, (B) get shot in the leg with a Glock, (C) get jumped in by six chicks for a minute and a half, or (D) they can roll the dice and hope that they get two at the most." Whatever number the girl rolls on the pair of dice is the number of boys she has to have sex with in order to join the gang. The male gang members then expect that the girls will have sex with them whenever they want. Even when the sex is coerced, violent, or drug induced it is not seen as rape. Girls rarely report being raped for fear of retaliation.

When asked why they go out with gangsters girls respond that there isn't anyone else to date. "Everywhere you go, guys are in go to school, gang members, you go to teen clubs, gang members. Our friend works at Pizza Hut on the South Side and all she sees are LA Boyz and Ambros...You don't have a choice about the guys you go out with." The boys believed the girls dated them for the thrill, and excitement which was the case for sisters Sandy and Barbara, two white girls from the city's affluent neighborhood who hung out with some gangster boys.

One of the most bizarre things I read in this chapter was the story of the 32 year old substitute teacher, a friend of Barbara's, who was waiting for her 15 year old boyfriend, father of her young son, to be released from jail so she could marry him.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Freedom Writers Diary

Last night James and I watched the movie Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank. What a great movie. And a fabulous tie-in to the 8 Ball Chicks book. The movie is the true story of Erin Gruwell, a first-time teacher who gets a job in the inner city of Los Angeles. Many of her students are in gangs. Within her very racially diverse classroom, Gruwell helps the students to find common ground through reading about war, and violence, and keeping their own journals. It is an extremely powerful film. Plus, it has a scene in a library! What more could you want from a movie?

Since it is Banned Books Week, I was reminded that about a year ago I read a news article about the book Freedom Writers Diary - a book that Gruwell wrote with her students. It seems a teacher in Perry Township, Indiana lost her job for attempting to use the book with her own at-risk students. Here's the story.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pam Trivia Time

Q: What is Pam's favorite time of year?

A: Banned Books Week!

Every year the American Library Association, along with American Booksellers Association, sponsors Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom to read, and to educate about the consequences of censorship. The American Library Association records book challenges reported to them by schools and libraries. They receive about 500 reports per year, and estimate that for every challenge reported 4 go unreported. For the past several years I have been creating displays in my library of books that have been challenged. I often get comments from students who are surprised to find their "favorite book" on the list, or stunned that one of the books they read as a child is on the "hit list."

This year Banned Books Week runs from September 26 through October 3.

See my Banned Books Week webpage for more information.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gangs in the NYT

So, a funny thing about Sike's book is that although it is clearly labeled as a "year of" book, I cannot tell what time of year anything happens, or even if the story is being told in a linear fashion, which all of the other books did. This book is divided into geographic sections (LA, San Antonio, Milwaukee). I am assuming that each of these places was visited, in turn, for some portion of the year, but so far I cannot tell for sure. I have just finished the first part, about Los Angeles, and yesterday came across this story in the New York Times about a gang bust there, in which 1,400 police officers rounded up 45 gang members. While I have no doubt that the police felt this was a necessary step to curb gang violence, it is also clear from Sikes book that people who live in South Central live daily with profiling and harassment, regardless of their gang affiliation.


Growing up I always wished I was a twin. I was really jealous of twins, especially identical twins. When I was pregnant I wished for twins (but once my daugher was born I was immensely grateful not to have had twins - how do their parents ever get any sleep?) I am always fascinated with stories about twins, which makes reading Logan and Nolan Miller's book that much more fun. They are extremely funny and are the type of twins who do almost everything together. They live and work together, and share a cellphone and a car.

Today, by chance I found out that the New York Times maintains a page dedicated to stories they have done about twins. I will enjoy purusing this.

Journalism and ethics

Gini Sikes tries hard to remain impartial as she delves into the extremely violent world of girl gangs. She has to work very hard to maintain her composure, for instance, when a young woman recounts beating up a gang rival which includes a description of raping the other young woman with a pipe. As the narrative continues, the storyteller laughs as she explains how two police officers witnessed the bloody scene and did nothing. Sikes does become more involved with the lives of some of her subjects, including going to court with them and assisting with making phone calls. The phone calls, and other appearances she makes, are requested not because Sikes has any insider information, or knows how to negotiate the system any better than her subjects, but simply because she is white.

When I lived in Tucson my husband and I were involved with the Pima County Interfaith Council and got a taste of what white privilege meant. The Council assisted a group of low-income, Hispanic residents who had had serious damage done to their homes due to a highway construction project nearby. Huge cracks in walls and foundations were evident. However, the construction company refused to pay for the repairs claiming that the statute of limitations had run out. When a large group of us from the Council showed up at a meeting, which now included mostly white members, a deal was finally made.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Movie Pick of the Month - No Impact Man

No Impact Man, aka Colin Beavan has been getting a lot of attention lately with his newly released movie, a documentary of his year of living without making an impact on the environment. The New Yorker, along with his wife and daughter, gave up elevators, taxis, washing machines and much more. The movie was released earlier this month, and will be in Boston starting October 2, (I doubt we will ever see it on the South Shore) so I haven't seen it yet, but am looking forward to it. He also has a book and a blog. I've looked at a few blog entries, and will add the book to my list to read later. Yesterday he was interviewed on NPR's Talk of the Nation.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Blogger Awards

This is Book Blogger Appreciation Week. The BBAW Awards Committee has announced winners in a variety of categories.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bonus Books - My 200th post!

Since I've read my "themed-books" for the month, I have two bonus books to start on. In 8 Ball Chicks, journalist Gini Sikes describes the inside world of girl gangs. This work was published in 1992. I received a copy courtesy of the Westborough (Massachusetts) Public Library.

As a read-aloud book with my husband, I've selected a recently published book: Either You're In or You're in the Way, by twin brothers Logan and Noah Miller. The authors spent a year, following their father's death in prison, making a movie about his life. The book was just published earlier this year, but I was still able to purchase a used copy of it. The movie they made, Touching Home, is set to be released next year.

Rubbing Elbows with the Authors

I occasionally contribute to the Internet Review of Books. This month's issue features an essay I wrote: "Rubbing Elbows with the Authors".

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wrapping up Roose

One of the biggest personal challenges Roose faced while attempting to fit in at Liberty was trying to ignore the overt homophobia that was all too apparent in his professors and classmates. Misinformation about homosexuals was actively taught in his General Education classes, and his friends threw the words "homo"and "gay" around regularly as insults. My middle-school aged daughter is mature enough not to do this. Conflicted about defending his lesbian aunts, and his gay friends from Brown, he goes to talk about the issue with one of the school's pastors, who clearly assumes Roose is worried about himself and discusses reparation therapy, and group counseling. To be fair, Roose does not defend his Liberty friends to his family and friends from Brown, who clearly have their own prejudices and beliefs about his new classmates.

In a strange twist of fate, Roose becomes an instant celebrity when it is discovered that he conducted the last print interview with Jerry Falwell, a soft piece about the man himself - hobbies, idosyncracies, etc. for the Liberty University student newspaper. Falwell died two weeks after the interview was published, just as students were winding up their final exams. I remember living in South Texas when Selena was murdered. And I was a relatively new Bay Stater (that's the official name for one who lives in Massachusetts, really!) when John John Kennedy's plane went down. The wall to wall coverage of both of these events was surreal to me, but I doubt it could even begin to compare what it must have been like to have been at Liberty when Falwell passed. Roose questions writing the "fluff" story, even after Falwell's death, but he does recognize what he gained from it - he was able to humanize the man who he had usually known to be demonized. Roose cites some of Falwell's writings in the Selected Bibliography at the end of his book, but does not mention the only one I read: If I Should Die Before I Wake (1986), his book about abortion. I read it when it first came out, when the Moral Majoirty was in its heyday, and I remember being surprised that I wasn't horrified by this work, even though I knew before I read it that my opinions were at complete opposition to his. What I found out by reading the book though, was that Falwell was actually trying to help unwed mothers by providing shelter, food and clothing for them and their babies, and assisting with finding adoptive families for those who wished to it. I imagine that this minor realization is the closest I will come to feeling what Roose did at the time.

Roose finds community among his friends at Liberty, and at Thomas Road Baptist Church. As a choir member he experiences a "tingly feeling" in his fingers during worship. This actually happens to him twice. He never converts, though. I think that the tingly feeling he described had more to do with the spirit of community than the holy spirit. I sometimes get a similar feeling when I am with my women's spirituality group and we call in the four directions. Do I think the spirits of the north are entering my body? No. Do I think getting out of the house for an evening and spending some time with some like-minded women is a spiritual experience? Definitely. Ecstatic experiences are common in all religions. I think they come from community.

My final thought, after reading Roose's book is simply a question: How do evangelicals justify their belief in a "loving" God, with the wrath that they think He will unleash on non-believers for all eternity? How can eternal punishment be just?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

On Librarians and Libraries

I was beginning to wonder about Liberty's library. Would Roose ever mention it? Did he ever go there? The answer to the first question is yes, finally, on page 248. The answer to the second question is: I don't know, after reading the whole book I find his only mention of the library is part of a rant about the anti-intellectual culture found on campus. "You start looking back at Liberty's institutional history and realizing why, for example, the school library wasn't built until a regional accreditation board mandated it." Perhaps, if this is the case, we can forgive him if actually never went there. He also mentions that even among the professors and administrators that too much questioning seems like a bad thing. The professors themselves engage in something we try to discourage at Bridgewater State College among our students: namely "cherry picking" quotes that fit their argument.

Writers do love to use librarians as the "go to" profession when they need to describe a certain "square" look, though. (Do they even realize we can help them with their research, too?) Roose follows in the footsteps of authors Benyamin Cohen and Frances Mayes (see posts on May 22 and July 2) with this illustration of Pastor Rick "...a tall mustachioed sixty-something man, clad in a red cardigan and low-sitting glasses, who looks like he could have been a reference librarian if he hadn't ben called to the ministry."

The Liberty Way

Liberty University students are held to a moral code spelled out in "The Liberty Way", a booklet that explains the rules and expectations of the college, and punishments for breaking them. These include: reprimands, fines (some quite hefty - up to $500 for having sexual intercourse), and community service. Roose, in his effort to fit in, abstains from sex and alcohol while he is there. Giving up drinking allows him to join the choir at the Thomas Road Baptist Church. He finds it is quite a different feeling for him to wake up on Sunday and not have a hangover. He also loses weight. All in all he doesn't seem to mind giving up the bottle. In giving up sex, though, he finds an interesting challenge. He first manages his self-imposed celibacy the way most people would, with "sex for one". But Liberty frowns upon this type of self love and actually has a self help group for chronic masturbators called "Every Man's Battle". He attends one meeting out of curiosity, and finds the pastor leader very concerned about him, so he attempts to give up masturbation as well. (Roose doesn't mention if they have a comparable group for women on campus). Even as Roose attempts to give this up, and appreciates everyone's concern for him, he questions the motivation behind it. How does his giving up masturbation make world a better place? Will the hungry eat tonight if he denies himself this pleasure?

My question to those who, for religious reasons, want to give up masturbation is this: If your God didn't want us to masturbate, wouldn't He have made our arms shorter?

Like many things on campus, Roose is surprised to discover a range of attitudes about sex. The party line, of course, is no premarital sex. But even among those who have taken a "purity pledge" there is no telling who is having sex and who isn't. Roose cites the same figures I have heard about those who take the "True Love Waits" vow - that 85% of them don't keep it. This really doesn't surprise me. What I find offensive, though, about the way figures are thrown around by those who organize the purity pledges, is that I've often heard them give statistics that would have some believe that condoms are only 80% effective in preventing pregnancy and STDs. This number is misleading, in that the 20% failure rate includes those times when condoms are not used at all. If we are to apply the same logic to abstinence we have to say it fails 85% of the time.