Tuesday, March 31, 2009


What did we ever do without cell phones? Actually, a cell phone is one thing I have never been too attached to. We do own one, and it has been broken for months, without it affecting our lives much at all, since we rarely used it to begin with. We bought it for emergency purposes and kept it in the car, or took it with us when our daughter was little and had a babysitter. We keep thinking we should replace it, but so far have not been too motivated.

Carlomagno starts out her chapter on giving up cell phones with an anecdote about thinking someone in a ladies' room was talking to her, when the other person was actually on a cell phone. I find more and more that people have no compunction using their cell phones in public rest rooms - a practice I find to be in beyond tacky.

Dependency on a land line seems to be extremely distressing for Carlomagno, who is used to contacting people with updates regularly. I think this habit of people younger than me may be my biggest "generation gap". Working on a college campus I have noticed that it is not uncommon for students to wait to the last minute to plan anything, in the hopes that something better might come along. Just as a program is about to begin the cell phone come out and calls are made so that friends might join the caller in whatever activity he/she is about to do. I prefer to make a plan, and stick to it.

The author's descriptions of those using a cell phone were not new to those of us who do not use them: for instance "the reporter" who lets someone on the other end know wherever they are. Whenever I ride the commuter rail to or from Boston I can count on someone on the train to call everytime we make a stop and let their party know "I'm at Campello now". She seemed surprised about calls made in church, or grocery stores. None of this surprised me.

My 11-year old daughter has been on a campaign to get a cell phone for about a year now. She told me she would need one when she started middle school because all the kids call their parents when they get on the bus. I told her I didn't need that level of updating about her life. If there was a problem with the bus, the school would let me know, otherwise I would assume no news is good news. I was glad to find out this weekend that I am not the only parental hold out on cell phones. The Boston Globe magazine had this article, explaining why the author's 11-year old daughter was not getting a cell phone.


I'd like to stop having newspapers delivered to my house. We get our local paper, The (Brockton) Enterprise, everyday, and the Boston Globe Thursday through Sunday. The Enterprise has taken lately to sensationalizing and it really bothers me. It is the only way to get the local news though. My husband likes having the papers delivered though, and so we continue to get them regularly. I get most of my news from National Public Radio, but sometimes I take a break from that as well. If I am home alone, as I am on occasion, I don't turn on the radio in the morning, and I toss the newspapers directly in the recycling bin (well, perhaps after I've looked at the comics and Dear Abby, and maybe do the Jumble). I look at the New York Times online when I get to work.

Carlomagno gives up newspapers for a month of April in favor of reading poetry in the morning. April is National Poetry month. She clearly is a lover of reading, and waxes quite nostalgic about going to the library as a child, so she couldn't give up reading in the morning all together. Poetry was a good substitute for the news.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Carlomagno gives up taking the elevator for the month of March. She describes lines that "snake outside the building" to get onto one of the functioning elevators in the building she works in. People wait in line longer to go up a flight or two than it would take them just to walk up. I have noticed this phenomenon with parking spots also. People will drive around and around waiting for a good spot to open up, in the time they could have parked a bit further and been inside their destination. The same thing happens at drive through windows. Whenever I notice a long line of cars at a drive through, I park and go in, and am back with my purchase before the last cars in line have placed their order.

The library I work in has four floors. I almost never use the elevator at work. I use the stairs for better health, and because I have seen the elevators here malfunction too many times. The only time I use the elevator is when I have a cart of books to take with me to another floor. I have some co-workers though who won't even do that. If they need to get a cart to another floor they put the cart on the elevator, and press the appropriate button and jump off. I can't say I blame them. Carlomagno describes getting stuck on the elevator herself. If you haven't seen the youtube video of the man stuck on an elevator for two days it will probably change your mind about using them ever again.


Friday, March 27, 2009


Shopping for fun is not a concept I am familiar with any longer. I was quite a mall rat when I was in Jr. High. I worked at a mall bookstore when I was in college, and spent my lunch hours browsing in the other stores. As a graduate student I suppose I felt some sense of longing for things I couldn't afford and shopping was a big luxury I was hoping to someday afford, but by the time I could afford to shop at my leisure, I'd stopped enjoying it. I can't stand crowds, or too much noise, so giving up shopping wouldn't really be the sacrifice to me that it was for Carlomagno, who was used to regular shopping trips. I was especially interested in her comment that "The idea of purchasing something new for a special occasion was magical. What I failed to recognize was that every day was not a special occasion" - an important lesson. In fact it is the same one that Elmo from Sesame Street learn in Elmo Saves Christmas, and one that I am still trying to explain to my daughter, who, whenever she wants something asks if she can have it "for a special occasion" - the occasion being that she wants it now.

Paradoxically, Carlomagno says she learned to shop from her mother, but then goes on to describe that shopping with her mother was a special occasion, and that there was always a special item they were on a "mission" to buy, in sharp contrast to the shopping trips she takes with her friends, the object of which is simply to buy stuff.


Carlomagno decides to forgo alcohol for the month of January. As it turned out for her, this meant giving up a lot of socializing, as her calendar for the month was full of "drinks with..." appointments. I guess single people, especially those in certain fields, do this a lot. She apparently spends a lot of money this way. Working as a librarian with a husband, child and dog, going out after work with friends is something I virtually never do. Most of my drinking is done at home with dinner with beer or wine purchased at the grocery store, or, even better, directly from Westport winery, or Buzzard's Bay brewing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

April's theme

The book theme for April is "Living More with Less". I just received Mary Carlomagno's book Give It Up! My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less through Interlibrary loan. The book comes to me by way of the Boxford (Massachusetts) Town Library. Carlomagno decides to give up one thing each month for the course of one year. The impetus for this is being hit on the head by "an avalanche" of her own shoes. She likens each month of denial to Lent, and points out that the Catholic church expects that changes made during lent should be life changing.

Year of "short"

While I was straightening my room this morning, I noticed one of my husband's ubiquitous folded-open magazines. My usual MO is to check the date and if it is more than a month old toss it in the recycling pile. This one though, (Harper's September 2008) was opened to a "Year of" story which I could simply could not resist. The author, Jeremy Miller writes about "The Tyranny of the Test: One Year as a Kaplan Coach in the Public Schools." Some bits of it are scarily like Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed, not because he made crap wages (in fact he seems embarassed by how much more he is paid compared to regular classroom teachers) but because both stories tell much about corporate party lines. The common thread involves employees just following the rules laid down by others.

The Kaplan coaching that Miller writes about is part of huge test-prep industry for the SAT and other standardized tests, including so many that have been created in the wake of No Child Left Behind. Fair Test takes a critical look at these exams. Over 800 colleges and universities have now made the SAT optional.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Giving it up

Diablo Cody simply gets burnt out and stops her stripping job after about a year. Almost every story, fictional or non-fictional, that I have read or heard about sex industry workers ends this way - the protagonist simply walks away from it. I wonder if that is indicative of the business in general, or just the stories that get published. Cody makes a very telling observation just before she quits: "The rules of attraction are reversed at a strip club. Girls that could halt midday traffic at Nicollet Mall were rejected by fat guys wearing Zubaz...The rejected girls, regardless of how loved they were by husbands or paramours or infants at home would feel worthless..."

Cody can definately spin a yarn. The same sharp wit she used in the Oscar-award winning screenplay for Juno is evident in this work as well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Stripper names

I wouldn't guess with a name like Diablo (which apparently is the author's real name) you wouldn't need a separate stripper name, but she chooses Bonbon for her first gig, and later becomes Roxanne, and then Cherish. Bacon magazine gives the top 10 stripper names. To create your own stripper name try this formula from Yahoo answers. You can also try this handy formula for making up your unique stripper name: combine the name of your childhood pet with the name of the street you grew up on. Here are some examples:

Bibi Crosby
Niki Pepperwood
Pablo Fontana
Tulip Atkinson

Starting over

Diablo Cody calls Minneapolis the "White City" because she arrives there in the dead of winter when things are covered with snow, and she lives in a generically white apartment with her boyfriend. She takes this as a "clean slate" and determines that she can reinvent herself. In so doing she chooses life as a stripper, although she also has a regular office job. Her first stripping gig is at a Thursday night amateur night. I was interested in her comment that "Thursday came too quickly." My daughter has a theory that the reason time goes by faster as we get older is because we fear death, and that whenever something is looming that we don't want to happen time seems to speed up. This is a phenomenon that Harry Potter experiences in the fourth Harry Potter book when he can't seem to get ready for the second task. Anyway, I found it especially noteworthy since Cody could have simply not shown up to the amateur night, and only her boyfriend would have known.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bonus Book

Since I finished reading two books with a "magic" theme early this month, I ordered a "bonus book" for March. Diablo Cody's Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. This book came to me by way of the Salem Public Library.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Harry Potter and censorship

Ben Buchanan deduces that J.K. Rowling must be a Christian because the Harry Potter books only mention celebrating Christmas. Ramadan and Hanukah are not celebrated at Hogwarts. Buchanan's father is a minister. I noted these points because Harry Potter books are some of the most frequent targets of book challenges in public schools and libraries. There are many reasons given for wanting the books banned. One of them is that they promote witchcraft. This is the reason often given by fundamentalist Christians. To find out more about this read "Harry Potter and the Ministry of Fire". Clearly Buchanan and his family are not of this ilk.

To find out more about book banning and censorship see my Banned Books Page.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Anyone can predict the future!

Buchanan begins his book by drawing some parallels between himself and Harry Potter, they both have scars on their foreheads, and both have magical things happen to them. He mentions several things that he "predicted" as coming true including "getting better at reading" and "I will turn 10". I predicted that I would finish this book by the end of the weekend and I was right. I remember seeing a cartoon in a magazine, probably almost 30 years ago, in which a man was sitting underneath of a clock that said 10:00. The man had a thought bubble that showed the clock reading 10:10. The caption underneath said "The man who could predict the future." Of course we can all do it. It is something magical about all of us.

Libraries, librarians, and learning

Libraries and librarians are an important part of Buchanan's story. His school librarian loaned him a British copy of the the third Harry Potter book so he could read it before it was available in the U.S. His public librarian arranges for him to display the game and to set up a day during which he can lead others in creating their own Harry Potter game. Buchanan also mentions the summer reading program at his library. Kids who read 20 hours over the course of the summer are rewarded with a pizza party. He lives in Texas. I worked as a public librarian in Texas for three years in the 1990s. I always felt the summer reading programs needed some improvement there. From what I could tell the "reward" system encouraged some kids to cheat. And for others, like those with dyslexia, the amount of reading they had to do was discouraging. Buchanan does say that the task was daunting for him.

I was struck by something Buchanan says early on in the book, when he discusses having an assignment to study an "-ology". He wanted to mythology, but his teacher tells him he already knows a lot about that and "encourages" him to do something else, and he chooses etymology "the study of the history of words". He takes this and makes connections with it and J.K. Rowling and the words she created for her stories. Buchanan's love of learning is evident. He does not complain about being asked to make a change in his topic. Instead he makes a new discovery.


Ben Buchanan's "year" goes from Christmas to Christmas. The Christmas of 1998 he received his first Harry Potter book. By The following Christmas he had read three Harry Potter books and created a board game based on the books with four boards, a rulebook, wizard money, a Quidditch ring and clay figures. The game was entered in his school's "Invention Convention. The following Christmas he was displaying and simplified version of his game at his local public library. A dyslexic, he had also developed a true love of reading - this is the real magic.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Year with Harry Potter

Ben Buchanan was 11 years old when he wote My Year with Harry Potter: How I Discovered my Own Magical World about creating a board game based on the Harry Potter series.

A copy of the book just arrived for me through interlibrary loan ,courtesy of the Manchester, Massachusetts Public Library.

It is a very short book (108 pages) I imagine I will be done with it by the end of the weekend.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Every thing evens out in the end

Didion's daughter, as teenager, observes that she seems to be more "unlucky" than her classmates "Most people I know don't even know anyone who died...and just since I've been there I've had a murder and suicide in my family." The girl's father responds that "It all evens out in the end" (p. 271). Didion questions what he meant. Did he mean that we all have our share of good luck and bad luck, or that everyone will have their share of grief eventually? She is surprised to learn that he meant the latter. This passage really bothered me because I worry that he may be right, and I am left waiting for the other shoe to drop. When will I experience my full share of grief. I have been touched by it, but not in the way of that many others I know have.


Both Didion and John Busby wrote about fate. Could some decision they had made years earlier have prevented them from the painful experiences they each write about? Because of some bad weather the Busby's decided not to interview on Martha's Vineyard for a job, and instead wound up on Cape Cod. How would their lives have played out differently if they hadn't been worried about getting home on the ferry that day? John Didion's doctor had warned him in 1987 that he was headed for a heart attack. After some medical interventions he lived much longer than expected. Was there anything else they could have done? Or is there nothing you can do to escape your fate?

I lived for several years in South Texas where it seemed that fatalism ran deep. People believed that some higher power was all controlling. Poverty was explained through the belief that God didn't want them to be rich. Miscarriages, birth defects, and corruption were explained the same way. In contrast, lottery tickets sold fast. One store that had sold two big winning tickets always had a line of cars and a police officer to direct traffic the night before a drawing.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Always being right - When will it ever end?

Didion's "year" begins on Dec. 30, 2003 when her husband of 40 years suddenly dies of a heart attack, just after they have returned from visiting their only child, Quintana, in an Intensive Care Unit. Although her daughter eventually recovers, she becomes dangeroulsy ill again several months later. Her daughter is a newlywed and travels to California with her husband and collapses shortly after arriving at the airport. After several more months in ICU at UCLA Medical Center Didion flies home to New York with her daughter in a medivac airplane. The plane stops once in Kansas to refuel, where one of the crew runs to McDonald's to get food for everyone. She shares a hamburger with her daughter who cannot yet eat much. When they arrive in New York, Didion's son-in-law asks about the flight: "I said that we had shared a Big Mac in a cornfield in Kansas. 'It wasn't a Big Mac' Quintana said. 'It was a Quarter Pounder'.

This is exactly the kind of exchange I have with my 11-year old daughter on a regular basis. She is always correcting trivial information, which drives my huband and me crazy. I am guessing that in the anecdote Didion relates here that her daughter must have been about 40 years old. At least now I know I can stop waiting.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


My theme for March is magic. I have just received my first book - Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. It came to me through Interlibrary loan by way of Ipswich Public Library.

Something magical about me is that I find four-leaf clovers whenever I want. I found my first four-leaf clover by accident when I was 10 years old. Since then, anytime I went out looking I found at least one. Sometimes I find two, three, or more of them. I have found hundreds of them in my 34 years since then. When I mentioned this to a psychologist friend of mine she started asking a bunch of questions about how I do at word-find games and other puzzles. I asked her to stop the questioning. I didn't want a scientific explanation for something I considered paranormal. I like to believe there is a bit of magic in the world. Some things just can't be explained.

Wrap up

The copy of The Year We Disappeared that I read came to me from Interlibrary loan from the Newbury, MA Public Library. It has a sticker indicating that it is shelved in the Young Adult section of the library. It is definately a lighter, and quicker read than Homicide. The book is organized into alternating chapters written by Cylin and John Busby. It really is like reading two different books about the same set of events. I sometimes expected one of the authors to follow up on something the other one wrote, but it did not always happen. It was also frustrating sometimes to read a story about a family of five, but only getting the perspective of two of them. Anecdotes about Polly (John's wife and Cylin's mother) show her both as strong and vulnerable, which is certainly believeable. Some of the stories I would have liked to have read her perspective on though. For instance, throughout the ordeal she worked full-time and finished nursing school, with straight A's. One can assume that this was a struggle for her, but we are only told the end result, we don't necessarily see the struggle, or get insight into what gave her strength.

The title of the book, as well as the blurbs I read about it, lead me to believe that the story would focus on the family's relocation from Cape Cod. In fact, the move doesn't happen until quite near the end of the book. At first I wondered why they picked the title, and then I realized that the family actually disappeared by degrees. After John was shot the family recieved around-the-clock police protection from the town of Falmouth. They were followed by police officers wherever they went, and eventually, when that became too expensive, a huge fortress was built around their house, with a vicious dog for additionl protection. The family virtually never went out except to school and work, and no one ever came to see them. They actually disappeared in plain sight. When they decided to leave Falmouth for an undisclosed location, they were actually reappearing, once again able to live their lives publically.