Friday, May 20, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Strong Women

Occasionally strong women rather get the shaft from history. Their contemporaries may judge them and latter historians may assign the worst possible viewpoint to their motivations and actions. I'm not a radical feminist, but I do know that in a man's world, a woman is judged twice harshly. Never did I set out to do this, but lately I've read a lot of books written by female authors relooking at some of the famously strong women of history.

  1. Notorious Victoria: the life of Victoria Woodhull, uncensored by Mary Gabriel
    Before I picked up this book, I had never heard of Victoria Woodhull. She was one of the early suffragettes, was extremely successful with her sister on Wall Street as the first female brokers, edited a newspaper, and most impressively was the first woman to run for President of the United States. So why then do we remember her contemporaries Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and not her? Well those aforementioned ladies at first hailed her as one of the leading lights of the suffragette movement, and then dropped all support for her. While she was campaigning for women's right to vote, she also campaigned for some more out-there ideals such as free love, workers rights (in the Karl Marx sense), and spiritualism. Previously she had worked as a medium and spiritualist. Those views were a little too far afield for the suffragettes who tended to be fairly straitlaced Christians. And so Woodhull was dropped from the suffragette movement and from most history books as anything but a footnote.

  2. Eleanor of Aquitaine: a life by Alison Weir
    Eleanor of Aquitaine was the richest and most important heiress of her day. By birth she controlled large areas, then by marriage she would be Queen of France and later Queen of England. Throughout her life she was a patron for artists and writers of her day as well as an accomplished politician. Never was she content to sit quietly in a corner doing needlework, but rather she actively participated in a crusade. Eventually she was imprisoned for her meddlesome ways, by her husband for encouraging her son to rebel against him. After his death, she ruled as regent for her children and continued to plan marriages, alliances, and other matters of state up until her death in her 80s.

  3. Lucrezia Borgia: life, love, and death in Renaissance Italy by Sarah Bradford
    One of the most famous villains in history, or at least that's how we remember her. What's harder to see is the woman who was intelligent and capable, much at the mercy of her father's plays for power, and worked to turn situations she was thrust into to her advantage. However her name became forever linked with the worst abuses of power by her family, even those she was not involved with or had no control over. That is not to say that she wasn't ambitious for herself, only that she is not the pure evil her name has become a synonym for. Highly fascinating book, and subject. If you want to take the easy way out, Showtime has a new series following the Borgias, but I can't promise their portrayal will be balanced.

  4. Cleopatra: a life by Stacy Schiff
    Yes, I have mentioned this book before. I'm still reading it on my Nook, almost done, and still loving it. When you think about Cleopatra, words like temptress, seductress, beautiful come to mind. Perhaps what should spring to mind is politically astute, powerful, smart, ambitious, and doing her best in a desperate situation. Her history was written by those who defeated her in a culture that viewed women as political property to be traded in marriage not as able to rule. It is amazing to look at her story and think, she didn't seduce Caesar in a wanton play for power; she was trapped with him in a castle during a war, fighting for both their lives. They had a lot in common, it was inevitable. It's great to be able to toss out the Shakespeare, Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra and see a real woman, not perfect, but doing her best and better than many of us would have done.

  5. East to the Dawn: the life of Amelia Earhart by Susan Butler
    Definitely not a vilified female, Amelia Earhart is the other extreme, she's been sainted in our cultural remembrance. However our common mythos about her is "daredevil pilot, flew a lot, broke some records, disappeared in the Pacific Ocean". That story, especially that ending, has overshadowed many other fantastic achievements in her lifetime. She was a dedicated social worker, spending much of her time with poor and immigrants. Earhart helped promote the idea of commercial aviation at a time when flying for travel was not considered feasible; without her we might not have the aviation travel industry as we know it. And of course who can forget her many feats in promoting the rights of women as pilots, including helping to found the 99s. I listened to this biography on audio and it completely changed my mind about Amelia Earhart. I would still put her on any hero/heroine list, but for completely different reasons.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why I Don't Read Mysteries

When people ask me what I read, I always say "anything but a mystery". And it's true. I don't read many thriller or horror books, but I'll read one rarely. I never read mysteries. I just can't get into them. After some mulling over, here are my reasons why.

  • Skipping Ahead
    I'm one of those people who invariably skips around in books. Usually when I'm between 1/3rd and 1/2 way through, I skip and read the last 5-10 pages. If I'm in a particularly tense (or boring) moment, I'll pop ahead 20 pages or so to see if it resolves okay (or picks up). This is a bit harder to do on my ereader (a Nook) and on audiobooks. I might be able to handle a mystery in one of those formats, but maybe not. When I'm reading ahead on any type of book but a mystery, knowing the ending only makes it sweeter because I can't wait to see how they get there. With a mystery, it kills it for me.

  • The Helpful Civilian/Amateur Detective
    There are many series mysteries that featuring detectives, forensic investigators, and the like. That I have no problem with. What irks me are the series that feature ordinary citizens who become amateur detectives. There is always someone, like an antiques dealer, who is continually running into murders, arson, and other assorted crimes as they go about their daily business. I've never been even tangentially close to a murder or arson case and if I did, I'd probably run the other way trusting that the boys in blue would take care of it, but not so our amateur sleuths. And the police never seem to mind their help, in fact they welcome it.

    If there is anything I know about police work, it is that they welcome help from untrained community members. At no point would they stop to question why this particular antique dealer comes across a dead body with every estate sale find. They would instead rejoice that their burden is lightened by some random stranger. (This entire paragraph should be read in the sarcasm font.)

    This leads me to my next point (which is really a side note/rant)...

  • A Side Rant on Angela Lansbury
    I used to love watching Murder, She Wrote as a kid. A kindly, grandmotherly woman who solves mysteries? Perfect. As an adult though, I have some questions. If you were friends with Angela Lansbury, wouldn't you at some point say, "Dear Angela, you're very sweet, I treasure our friendship, but wherever you go dead bodies appear. I am uninviting you to the weekend getaway at our country house and am going to ask you to never contact me again." I've also developed two theories about her.
    1. Angela Lansbury is being stalked by a serial killer. This killer passionately loves our heroine and kills for her. He then leaves enough evidence framing someone else that the object of his affection can (incorrectly) identify a culprit and be hailed a hero.
    2. Angela Lansbury is a serial killer, but she's had a psychotic break and is entirely unaware of it (like Fight Club). She's been framing people for her murders for years, no wonder she can always catch the "killer" before the police - she's planting the evidence!

  • Handling Reader's Advisory
    Now while I don't read mysteries, millions of patrons do. These patrons are deserving of my help when they come to the library desk seeking a recommendation for the next book to read. When I was a youth librarian, I tried reading a few mysteries. (Children's books are shorter). Though I imagine that if the police are thrilled about adult amateur sleuths, they must be over the moon to have the help of minors. However The Westing Game by Raskin is the only mystery book I've ever enjoyed. As an adult services librarian, I concentrate on reading reviews, blogs, articles and the like to keep me up to date on trends in mysteries. It works well enough. You can't be an expert in everything. Sometimes being a generalist means getting an overview instead of an in depth look.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Finding Your Tribe

One of the most important parts of my adult social life has been the finding of my tribe(s). I'm very blessed to have been born into a lovely family full of people I genuinely enjoy spending time with. This entry is not about them nor in any way meant to disparage them, but merely about those other tribes we find in life.

In my life (outside of family) I have three tribes. Most people have trouble locating one, I'm so blessed to have three. (Yes I just used the word blessed twice in close succession. That's how I feel.) Finding your tribe is about finding people who care passionately about the same things you do. People you can have a 45 minute conversation with before you even exchange names. Those conversations that are almost incomprehensible to people outside your tribe. These are my three. I write about them in hopes you might be able to identify who your potential tribes are.

Those 45 minute conversations before you bother to exchange names? They happen to me all the time at library conferences. I cheerfully wear myself out going from 6:30am (when I meet someone for breakfast) until late at night (meeting people for late night drinks, deserts, coffees, just chatting in hotel lobbies until all hours). In every session, in lines at restaurants, in the hallways, every person is a friend waiting to be met. We always seem to have something to talk about and some of the post-conference follow ups have lead to great things for me/my library/programming/etc. Library conferences always feel like "coming home" to me because of the people. That is a sure sign that you've found your tribe.

Crafty People
Mostly it is knitters and crocheters, but I have quite the kinship with all crafty people. Partially because I also sew, scrapbook, cardmake, cross-stitch, etc., but mostly because there is just some overarching motifs that all crafty people feel. Last week in the button/thread aisle of JoAnns I ended up in a 20 minute conversation with two other ladies as we gave each other advice matching notions to projects and compared using natural materials versus man made materials. I knit in public and often get other knitters who come up to "talk shop" with me. These are the conversations that are mostly incomprehensible to outsiders, full of jargon, in jokes, and references. My tribe speaks my language.

Church People
In church, I find people who share the same world view as me, the same mores and morals. When I don't understand where the rest of the world is coming from, I find like minded individuals there. When I'm tired and weary, exhausted and frustrated, ready to give up, these are the individuals who lift me up and give me strength. It's almost impossible to explain how important these people are in my life. My family is over 5,000 miles away and these are the people who I spend holidays with, who celebrate with me, cry with me, drive me to the hospital. They go beyond tribe and are my family in everything but DNA.

Some people cross lines. I have some Christian knitter friends or some crafter librarian types and those people are doubly close to me. Have you found your tribe yet? When you do, it can be the most rewarding part of your life.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Spring Fever Edition

It's a beautiful sunny day and I'm having a bit of trouble focusing at work. Here's an extremely random spring fever edition of five things.

  1. It turns out Greg Mortenson, author of the bestselling Three Cups of Tea might be a liar. Questions are arising about the authenticity of his story and how he is handling the money coming into his charity. A group of legislators are suing him and the very well respected Jon Krakauer (himself a best selling author and one of Mortenson's first backers) wrote an ebook called Three Cups of Deceit (scroll down) about the whole thing. Interesting story to watch develop.

  2. School ends in two weeks on May 18th. It's hard to tell who is more ready, the staff at the school, our public library staff, or the kids.

  3. The weather has gotten so very nice in the last couple of weeks in Anchorage that is hard not for me to stare longingly at the window. This does not apparently affect the teens. I kicked out a group of them yesterday for playing hackey sack in the library. I told them it was gorgeous outside and there was a very large lawn in front of the library open for play. They seemed resentful. I almost told them that I'd be happy to go play hackey sack outside if they wanted to play librarian for the day.

  4. I'm really curious to see how summers will go at the library. We've not been open in the summer yet. Our Saturdays are typically a lot quieter because we don't have kids walk over from our next door middle school. However during the summer, the kids will be bored, need Internet access, and the weather will be nice (by Alaska standards) for walking. We could be dead or we could be slammed.

  5. Last Friday I made a "Royal Fever" book display. It has a few of the books from my list as well as the book written by Charles, Prince of Wales, recently, a book on Diana, and various other royalty type things historical and contemporary. No one has checked out a single book from my display. It's in an awkward place, but still... A week and not one checkout? Display needs to come down.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Gotta have my tunes

At some point in the last 30 years, we developped the concept of a personal soundtrack as your inaleianable right. I'm not pretending to be a social historian, but I suspect it began with the development of the portable transistor radio and then the walkman, the diskman, and finally the iPod (or generic MP3 player). The generation of teens today has never known a time when it wasn't possible to have whatever music you wanted whenever you wanted it. To be fair, I'm in my late 20s (part of the Millenial generation) and I can't really recall a time when I didn't have some sort of portable music player.

An example from a staff side. Years ago when I was active on livejournal, I belonged to a community based on sharing funny stories of frustrating library patrons and ranting about them in general. One library clerk posted a rant. Apparently a patron complained about the music she was playing. She had music streaming over the speakers on the circulation desk computer. Her rant was that they (presumably library management) wouldn't let her use her headphones (reasonable when she's working a public service desk) and she could not be expected to go 8 hours without her music. This woman literally believed it was her right to play music at all times. A scary number of comments agreed with her. Of course some agreed with me when I pointed out that it isn't too much to ask you to work without music when at a public desk at a library. But it was for me an interesting insight into a totally different mentality.

In a similar vein the question "Should shelvers be allowed to listen to music on ipods while shelving in the public stacks?" comes up regularly on library listservs.

It may be that I have developped some cranky old lady personality traits long before crows feet and gray hairs, but you do not have the right to have your music going at all times. (Also get off my lawn!) Shelvers shouldn't listen to music because it makes them unapproachable to members of the public. It is not unreasonable for you to be asked to work 8 hours without music. Yes many people work in jobs where they can listen to music; library work (except in back offices) is not one of those fields. Deal.

Let me spin you a very common story from the public side. This happens two or three times a day at my library. A patron will come in blaring music on their iPod. One earbud will be plugged into their ear, the other will be dangling loose. Everyone within 25 feet can clearly hear the music. They will not stop, pause, or turn down the music while talking to friends, browsing library materials, or interacting with staff members. I (or another staff member) will politely remind them that library policy requires that music only be listened to through headphones or earbuds. A small percentage of patrons will then make an appropriate adjustment, but the vast majority of them will look confused. We then further explain that they need to either stop the music or put both earbuds in their ears.

A secondary situation (as common as the first): the patron has correctly plugged both earbuds into their ears but the music is loud enough that everyone around them still hears every beat. Either their earbuds are cheap enough that they don't properly direct the music or their hearing is damaged from years of this abuse that they need it that loud or a combination of the two. Usually (even with the teenagers) it is a combination of cheap earbuds and damaged hearing.

Two less common scenarios (so I only see them once a week instead of twice a day) are patrons who are using oldstyle headphones (not earbuds) and wearing them around their neck to listen to music instead of over their ears. Or they are using their earbuds in the middle of the table as little bitty speakers for all their friends. The latter teen will typically argue with me that they are using headphones/earbuds.

And of course there are the people who simply use their device with external speakers in the library. I've overheard some private conversations as a person on speakerphone sat a library table consulting paperwork and yelling at their phone. Or people watching videos on phones/devices and showing them to friends. No headphones at all.

There are two simple rules. If we all agree to them, life will be easier. Or at least my life will be. And since this is my blog, that is what matters.

Rule Number One
Use headphones/earbuds in the library or hold your phone directly to your ear. Basically the sound needs pumped directly into your ear. This is a library specific rule (though it seems to be common sense to me) and I have no problem explaining it to you once. When we're having the same conversation about it every day, then I get irritated.

Rule Number Two
If you are using your headphones/earbuds properly, only you can hear the sound. That's the point of headphones. This is a general life rule and should be observed at all times by all people, especially on public transit.

Two rules. And then we can move on to not talking on your cell phone when trying to interact with a person behind a service desk (at the grocery store, at the library, wherever).

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Sample Socks

So I saw a tweet about a new indie dyer (Socks-to-be yarn) who was offering 50 gram yarn samples to people for review purposes to promote her new etsy store. Now I love sock yarn, hand dyed yarn, supporting small businesses and indie artists, and free stuff. Clearly I was all over this.

When offered my choice of colors, I asked for pink (it didn't really matter, but pink is almost always my preference). This loveliness arrived in my mailbox:
It's 80/20 Superwash wool/nylon.

I greatly debated what to make from this yarn. It came close to being baby booties. Or perhaps wrist warmers. Ultimately though it had to be socks. Normally you need a 100 gram/400 yard skein of sock yarn to make a pair of socks, but I made my Harry Potter socks from 50grams or so by making them with a large (for socks, a US 2) needle and short (just barely over ankle). The theory was that if I chose a lace pattern and made ankle socks it would work, even with my freakishly long narrow feet. I cast on in the highest of expectations.

The pattern I chose is Ribbed Ribbon Socks (Ravelry link) from Socks from the Toe-Up* by Wendy Johnson. I used US size 1 (2.25mm) DPNs because I knit too tightly to ever knit with the size 0's that are recommended.

This time I wasn't playing any games with the yarn. I weighed before I started, just about 51 or 52 grams. The first sock came in at about 26 or 27 grams. To avoid (unnecessarily) boring you with knittery details, I made a teensy mod to the second sock that makes it a tiny bit snugger but not unwearably so and ended up with two socks. I cut it so close, nearly ran out of yarn but I made it. Naturally I abhor anything resembling gambling adn this was way too risky for me.

All told I love how they turned out. The small amount of yarn forced me to do only five rows of ribbing after finishing the heel so they rest just under my ankle bone. They fit much like (but better than) my favorite commercially produced ankle socks.

Yarn review: Love it. The yarn was great to work with, not splitty or icky. There was one knot in the skein, not a big deal, but I mention it because some knitters view any knots as a cardinal sin. They're overreacting; one is fine, four are not. The color is perfect, a lovely slightly heathered pink. It's perfect for this lace pattern. It accentuates the lace without being overbearing. The second picture really shows how nicely tonal the yarn is in the sole of the foot.

Overall, I'm very pleased with this yarn. A nice yarn to work with and a beautiful color.

*I've never signed up for the thing where I get Amazon credits for linking to a book if you buy it, and I don't want to, so no more Amazon links. You can easily find the book on your own, on the author's webpage, or at your favorite local store. Also I think I've done enough hyperlinking in this post to last a good little while.