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Life Sucks

I’ve missed the YA vampire craze. I enjoyed this graphic novel a lot. The premise is nothing too special -- what if normal ordinary people were vampires and had to live and work along with the rest of us. What if one of them was a vegetarian? What if he developed a crush on a goth chick? This well-drawn and well thought out Adrian Tomine-like bleakish (yet full color) story is one of the better graphic novels I’ve read this year.

The Hungry Scientist Handbook

This book is part cookbook, part wacky scientist project book. Not good if you’re looking for a book that is all of either one. It’s a fun look at nifty things you can do in or near the kitchen, some tasty, some geeky and some a delicious combination of both. The book starts out tantalizingly with edible underwear and winds up with a 26 page instruction manual for making drink coasters that light up in certain ways. I definitely looked at a few recipes and thought “I can do that” and looked at a few others and thought “that would be dangerous/impossible” Overall, it’s a good mix and would make a nice gift for the scientist who has everything (including a sense of humor).


This book is the complete collection of all the Zot graphic novels that were published in black and white form together with a lot of commentary by Scott McCloud. As someone who has yet to read Understanding Comics, and who grew up down the road from where McCloud lived [only a few years later] I found his sidebar discussions almost as interesting as the comics themselves.

Tell Me Where It Hurts

Is it weird to have a predilection for veteriniarian non-fiction? This is one of those “Hi, I’m a vet, let me tell you about my day” books and as those books go, it’s pretty good. The author works at a veterinary hospital in the Boston area and tells the tale of one long day at work. This is a little strange because, as he admits, he basically makes up a day by smooshing a bunch of stories into one 24 hour period. My guess is that his usual days on the job may be a little more prosaic. This day is full of complicated medical diagnoses, surgery judgment calls and a lot of interactions with animals (mainly dogs but there are a few cays and one turtle) and their owners. Trout is British which may explain a bit of his wisecracking style which I found a little off-putting but not too terrible. The book is filled with anecdotes about the veterinary profession which were just about as interesting as the animal stories themselves.

Firebirds Soaring

Another terrific Firebird collection by my friend Sharyn November. This collection of young adult fantasy short stories serves as both a great collection of pieces but also an introduction to many great authors working in YA today. The stories range from super-short almost-poems to long stories that operate on their own as well as chapters or sequels to existing works. Each story has a lead illustration that is a neat addition to this already-rich compilation of stories. Sharyn is a stickler for details and this book is well-chosen and well-edited. Another must-read for fans of YA fantasy.

The Eight

I picked this up in an airport because I was desparate not to have nothing to read on the plane and this wasn’t a self-help book. The blurb said it was a “feminist version of the DaVinci code” or something and I was not totally psyched about that but it turned out to be a fun airplane read. It sort of IS like the Dan Brown books -- it’s a historical romp with a big-scale mystery driving the action - but most of the main characters are women. And they’re not women in some like super-feminist matriarchy, they’re just female characters. There are a lot of male characters too, they’re just not primary. And it’s about chess but instead of it being a totally cerebral novel with a bunch of chess in-jokes, the chess in this book is mostly understandable to someone who has at least played the game once or twice. As a random airport book this was a pleasant surprise. I’ll probably pick up Neville’s next book when I see it.


If you like Cory Doctorow’s writing and general angle, you will love this book. I finished reading it as I was on a series of airplanes travelling to give my own talks to librarians about licensing, open source, technology and whatnot, and this was good food for thought. This book is only sort of a “book” which is part of the point Doctorow is trying to make. I got an actual print copy of it from his publisher [one of those “hey do you want to read this?” "yes I want to read it" exchanges] but I could have just as easily downloaded it from the web, legally and easily. In fact, thanks to the open licensing on the book’s “content” (again, this is the point) I can download a Braille version and RTF version, or even an audio version of a lot of the chapters. These aren’t created by Doctorow or his publisher, they’re created by fans. When we talk about user-generated content, and we do a lot, I don’t so much mean “you do work for us for free and in return we re-sell your freely given work for our own profit” what I mean is things like this.

Now, this sort of in your face free culture stuff really only works if you’re not living hand to mouth and if people like what you say enough to want to follow you around and remix your content. However, it does work. It doesn’t implode because authors don’t get paid -- a point that Doctorow makes frequently through this series of essays -- and it doesn’t fall apart because there’s no quality control of the sort that (allegedly) only top down business can give us. As librarians, we’re some of the original free cultists. Paying attention to what is going on in the world of copyright and the world of content licensing should be the most important part of our jobs moving forward as we watch more and more content become digital, redistributable, and literally uncontrollable. This collection of essays has advice, advocacy and a lot of useful metaphors all tied together with Doctorow’s oddly cheery dystopian predictions combined with a great grasp of both the language and the issues.

In a talk I gave to a bunch of Kansas librarians I used Cory’s cite of William Gibson’s quotation “The future is already here it’s just not very evenly distributed” to start talking about digital divide issues. We’re still loaning, and loving, print books while many people are getting digital books beamed directly to their portable devices with or without librarian assistance. Understanding the system is the minimum possible work we need to do to grok our role in the system. When I was done giving my talk someone asked me “What’s the name of that book again?” and I was able to just hand them the one from my backpack “Here, you can keep it.” and I was able to both give it away and keep it at the same time. That’s the future.


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R is for Ricochet

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Shadowed Summer

This was a book given to me by a MeFi pal. It’s written by someone who is also a MeFite. It’s a YA supernatural book and when I saw the cover I was a little concerned that it would be yet another teen girl witches story. But it’s not. It’s a small-town slightly supernatural mystery with a little coming of age plot tossed in for good measure. It’s a story about friendship, about two girls stuck in a dead end town with not much to do. They spend their afternoons in the cemetary practicing spells and then one day something funny happens. This sends them on an exploratory path, delving into the history of the town and prying into stories some people would best like to forget.

The best thing abotu this book is how real it seems. The girls act like girls, not some older woman’s idealized idea of what her teenage years might have been like. The kids are awkward and strange and interact clumsily and awkwardly with the adults around them while at the same time trying desparately to figure them out. I got a real sense of the place of this story without feeling overwhelmed by adjectives and/or drama. A lot of YA books are “issue” books where it’s just one terrible thing happening after another. This really is a town in which not much happens, but there’s enough little background stuff happening to keep the story moving forward without the reader feeling like they’re overwhelmed by teen angst.


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The Italian Secretary

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Deep Economy

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Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart

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Little Brother

I read Cory Doctorow’s YA book Little Brother on the plane home from the library conference after seeing him speak on a panel on privacy and then coming home to learn that my LOCAL library, one who pays me occasionally, had, um, had a visit.

If you have/know smart kids who love computers, this is one of very few books I’ve seen that gets inside what really techie people are like, and it’s a decent YA novel at the same time, deals with a terrorist event where the Bay Bridge is blown up and civil rights get suspended, etc. If you know Cory’s work you’ll know how it goes, but I was surprised how engaging it was at the same time as it painted a dystopian near future and hit all the EFF-ish talking points.

Some of the web has a hate-on for Cory a lot of the time, but I like him and his writing. I like to read about people who are really deep into a tech universe. Few activists come across sounding so smart about tech.

Going to Meet the Man

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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A General Theory of Love

This book attempts to explore what we know about love and combine it with what we know about science to see if we can gain some knowlede about the entire process. It does an okay job, but there were definitely some aprts where I felt that I was being fed selective science in order to further the authors' claims about how the world workd nd how the mind and body connected to it. It was a fun schience-lite read but I would have appreciaetd either more rigor or slightly less. As it was, when I got to the part at the end where they start talking about what is wrong with modern medicine, I found myself agreeing with their general opinions, but disliking their tone so much I wanted to take devil’s advocate positions on them. Book has a nice cover and might be a better read for someone either more or less inclined towards the authors' conclusions. As it was, I felt stuck somewhat in the middle.

Flying to America

This is a good book for completists. I was sad reading this book because I knew when I finished it there would be no more Barthelme that I hadn’t read and all I could ever do was re-read him [or drag up old essays from architectural magazines, or go to Texas and dig through his papers] but I think this book is actually a good goodbye. Some of it’s marvelous and all of it’s fascinating, but there are definitely some pieces here that drag.

I mean, in many of his books there is a piece or two that maybe aren’t as spunky as the others, but you can sort of see how they all fit together with the group as a whole. Even though this collection was ably curated by Kim Herzinger, there wasn’t that same sense of “oh this story isn’t so good on its own but combined with the one before it and the one after it, it begins to make some sense in a weird Barthelme sort of way” I just didn’t like some of these stories and that’s pretty much okay. Generally speaking this was a joy to read. The book is attractive, it’s hefty and there are notes in the back which is my favorite part, really, of any short story collection. Where did this story come from? Where has it been?

You Don’t Love Me Yet

Caveat: Jonathan sent me this book. I’ve had a rough year of reading. I’ve been spending more of my travel time working and travel time was when I used to do a lot of reading. I’ve also done less flying and more driving, good for the environment [maybe?] but not so great for reading. So I was happy to get this bookwhich looked fun and interesting and did not disapoint thinking “maybe I can finish this one?” And you know what? I did. Not only did it finish it, but it almost seemed too short. I was going to save part of it for the flight home but tore through it wanting to know what happened and how.

The story and even the tone of this book are familiar. It’s a story of a band, and bandmates, and artists and the way they interact, drink, come together and come apart. There’s music, sex, drinking, eating and the schlepping of instruments. However, somehow this story, this band, this slice of live seems different, more interesting, more alive. The writing doesn’t fall over the same old music cliches and has enough big words that I felt that it was writing to my level. It doesn’t just say “it was the best song ever” it shows you some of the passion and the feeling and that hot-behind-the-ears buzz you get when something is just so right. It’s hard to do that well, in my opinion, and it’s horrible when it’s done wrong. This was a fun, fast, lively read. The book cover text says something to the effect of how “things will never be the same...” for this band and yet it both is and isn’t always the same.


“WHo gives a book on medical mistakes to a cancer patient?” my Mom said and gifted this book to me. I really enjoyed it. It’s not just about mistakes but looks somewhat into the business of medicine, the choices hospitals and doctors and big organizations make, and why they make them and maybe, even how they could be made better. Gawande looks at doctors who kill (via the death penalty) and the eradication of polio (via crazy giant vaccination projects) and why some cystic fibrosis treatments are far and away working while others aren’t. It’s all fascinating and Gawande does a good job separating out his personal opinions and observations from the stories he is trying to tell

The View From The Studio Door

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The 13th Juror

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I’m a Stranger Here Myself

This is Bill Bryson’s tale of how he came to live in the UK and met his wife, told as reflections during a walk through a lot of the English and Scottish countryside. My UK geography is terrible, so I may not have this all down correctly, but Bryson goes to a lot of nifty little towns and writes about what he finds there, occasioanlly interpersing these details with stories about his first trip to England when he was a young man. It’s a fun collection of trips with a little travelogue tossed in for good measure. Not as out and out hilarious as some of his other books, but still a great read and made me want to take a trip to England.

To Engineer is Human

A really slow book from Petroski. While I was hoping for a lot of in-depth looks at engineering failures, this book was way more full of metaphors for engineering processes -- many relying on cute stories about Petroski’s own family -- than looks at specifics. The stories he does relate, about the design and building of the Crystal Palace and the Kansas City Hyatt walk way collapse, are worthwhile but the rest of the book doesn’t hold together as interestingly as those chapters.

Amazing Rare Things

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The Historian

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Everything is Illuminated

I finished this book and went to read more about Trachimbrod (actually Trochimbrod) the location in the story where an entire town of Jews is destroyed and the town effectively vanishes from the earth. While the book is non-fiction and has a lot of fun and less-fun literary affectations, it’s based on a real place. When I went to read more, I learned that the movie made of the book was 1) based on a screenplay written by a guy I went to college with, and 2) featured a soundtrack by Gogol Bordello who was also featured in a movie I just finished watching: Wristcutters.

None of this has much to do with the book which I fell into and got stuck in. The recurring theme of memory and how for Jews their memories are like a sixth sense, felt as well as simply experienced. This particular story is two main stories. The protagonist, known alternately as “The Hero” and Jonathan Safran Foer, goes back to figure out what happened to the town where his grandfather lived. There is also the parallel story of the history of this same town, told in a rather fantastical way. I usually dislike books with two concurrent stories because I tent to like one more and flip ahead in the slower story to get back to the interesting one, but in this book both stories are equally captivating.

Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian

Librarians will be driven crazy by this book’s cover because the cover shows someone standing on one of those noisy library stepstools, but it’s tilted which is, as we all know, impossible. This book, which I got as a proof copy from Scott, was a fun read. Scott is a public librarian in Orange County California and he tells some of his stories here. The book relates him being a library page, going to library school, moving to a new branch, watching his old branch be destroyed and, most of all, interacting with crazy people.

I emailed Scott and told him he probably needed a few synonyms for “crazy” because he used it so much. The crazy people in his stories are both patrons and staff and in fact I found his portrayals of the weird tics of library staffers to be even more true-to-life seeming than the patron stories which sometimes seemed embellished for effect. This book is amusing but it’s not just the library world played for laughs. Scott includes a lot of (too many) footnotes with interesting asides and even includes little research dossiers on particlar topics that will inteerst the librarian reader. You can go pre-order the book now from all the usual places and I suggest that you do.

Hard Evidence

The second in the Dismas Hardy series form John Lescroat, still introducing some of the characters. This book felt longer than some of his later ones, divided into a lot of parts. It has the same large cast of characters and general not-sure-whodunit plotlines that I’m used to. A decent read for a snowy holiday.